Apple patent wins could transform future of the desktop

25 Aug 2010

Apple has been granted patents that indicate the computing giant is working on a new iMac touch desktop computing platform that uses the multitouch technology used in the iPad and iPhone.

Blog site Patently Apple last night reported that the US Patent and Trademark Office officially published a series of nine newly granted patents for Apple Inc. that include design wins for both the original iPod and the iPod touch along with other patents covering Apple’s now defunct Shake application, the technology behind multi-conic graphic gradients and most importantly, a major touch-related patent that may have played a role in Apple’s latest Magic Trackpad desktop device.

In addition the site reported that while the world was salivating over the new iPad and iPhone 4 devices a major iMac Touch patent was being quietly published in Europe.

“While touch-based input is well suited to many applications, conventional styles of input, such as a mouse/keyboard input may be preferred in other applications. Therefore it may be desirable for some devices to provide for touch-based input as well as mouse/keyboard input. However, a UI being displayed by the display device during a touch-based input mode might not be suited for use during a mouse/keyboard input mode, and vice versa.

“The foregoing could be addressed by providing transitioning between modes of input, for example, transitioning between touch-based input and mouse/keyboard based input, by sensing a change in orientation of a touchscreen display. For example, an accelerometer in the display could sense the force of gravity along an axis, and the measured force could be used to determine an angle of the display with respect to the ground (ie the plane perpendicular to the direction of the force of gravity). A transition between input modes could be performed when the vertical angle (tilt) of the display crosses a predetermined angle.

“In another example, a rotation sensor could be mounted in an adjustable stand of the display. The rotation sensor could measure a rotation position of the stand, such as an angle between the base of the stand and a hinged arm that connects the base and the display. The measured rotation position could be used to determine the orientation of the display.”

Among the nine patent filings were two that read: “an apparatus including a touch sensitive surface with an associated plurality of touch sensors” and “a computing system including a touch-sensitive surface with an associated plurality of touch sensors.”

A quick read of their summaries suggest that nearby touch devices, like an iPad or an iPhone could work harmoniously with a multitouch desktop in terms of motion control and use of data.

You get the sense that Apple may be facilitating a future where a video or photo document on a screen on the desktop could be lifted wirelessly onto another device or vice versa with the swipe of a finger or another motion.

If so this heralds an exciting new future for desktop computing and suggests Apple could go head-to-head with Microsoft’s Surface technology.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years