New Apple Patent Shows XR Controllers Aren’t off the Table

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Apple Vision Pro may not ship with controllers, but a newly published patent application shows that controllers are still being actively investigated by the company.

Spotted by Patently Apple, an Apple patent application published today reveals the company is still actively investigating controllers for XR input, including stylus-like devices with dial inputs.

The new patent application, titled Computer Systems with Handheld Controllers describes “one or more handheld controllers to interact with a virtual reality or mixed reality system (e.g., a head-mounted device with a display), to supply input to a desktop computer, tablet computer, cellular telephone, watch, ear buds, or other accessory, to control household items such as lighting, televisions, thermostats, appliances, etc., or to interact with other electronic equipment.”

Photos in the patent show several concepts for such a controller, including stylus-like devices and wand-like devices. The patent application says the controllers could use various sensors for detecting user intent, including touch-sensitive surfaces, buttons, or dials.

There’s even a concept for a wand-like device that splits into two controllers for dual-hand input.

“The housing may have a first and second housing portions operable in a first mode in which the first and second housing portions are mated with one another and a second mode in which the first and second housing portions are separated from one another to form independent hand-held controller devices,” the application reads.

Though it was published today the patent application (identified as US20240012496A1) was first filed by Apple in mid-2023. Of course, patent applications don’t prove a company is actively working on an actual product. It’s common practice for large companies to secure future IP ‘just in case’ they ever choose to pursue it or to box out competitors.

However, we have a strong feeling that a stylus-like controller isn’t off the table for Vision Pro in the future. Apple will surely want to enable professional design workflows which almost universally require a precise pointing device—the same reason they eventually released the Apple Pencil stylus for iPads.