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Apple’s touch keyboard makes a new appearance on a generous, two-million pixel slab.
There are secrets. Secrets you are not supposed to know about. Suppressed 200mpg automobile engines. Faster-than-light-speed travel technology we scavenged at Roswell. The location of Walt Disney’s cryogenically frozen body. The truth about the Masons. But none of these inspires as much discussion and theorizing as the one to which we turn our attention here: Apple’s next big product.
Apple develops products in an armored sanctuary from which not a word escapes, lest those responsible for the leak face the wrath of Steve Jobs. Call Apple for a comment on an upcoming release and you’ll be lucky to escape with your life.
But even Apple is bound by certain rules, thanks to Uncle Sam: If it wants to prevent competitors from knocking off its hardware, it has to file paperwork to legally protect the design of those gadgets. That means patent forms, full of pictures and descriptions, must be filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, often years before that hardware hits the market.
We unlocked the vault and scoured the USPTO’s database for a hint at what Steve’s next “one more thing” keynote reveal might be. Overall, we sifted through nearly 2,000 Apple patents, spanning 30 years of innovation. The paper cuts and bloodshot eyes paid off through a collection of the coolest, wildest, and weirdest inventions that Apple has ever come up with. Join us as we reveal the most tantalizing and, frankly, mind-boggling patents from the inner sanctum of Apple’s R&D lab, three of which we’ve taken from crude line drawing into the world of 3D mock-up, with our own photo-realistic designs.
Just this once, you’re free to tell everyone what you’ve seen.
Several patents granted from 2004 to 2008. ETA: 2010
Part MacBook, part iPhone. Could be on your desk in 2010.
Meet the flagship of Apple’s recent flurry of patent activity, a product some have been predicting Apple would release for years: the Mac tablet. This slate-format tablet is as portable as a MacBook Air, but with a twist: It also docks into an iMac for regular desktop work. This is no stuffy PC tablet; expect a fully thought-out interface and a specialized Mac OS update—as well as a treasure trove of innovations that could take this tablet from cool to downright phenomenal.
Based on existing technology, the tablet would feature iPhone-like multitouch, spanning the entire screen. Flitting through images and albums will be as easy as it is on the iPhone and the latest MacBook touchpads. And new gesturing patents granted this year will continue to add capabilities, assigning new functions to more multifinger gestures, full-palm gestures, and stylus data-entry.
When you’re not mobile, the Mac tablet docks into an iMac-like chassis. This may seem mundane at first, but don’t count on Apple leaving this as a simple, dumb display, with a relatively underfeatured tablet shouldering all of workload. Tucked inside this custom iMac you’ll find a larger, secondary hard drive (for extra storage or automatic backups), a beefed-up graphics chip, or even an extra processor, giving the tablet a power boost befitting a workstation.
Wait, it gets wilder…we dug up a patent from 2006 that describes a touch-sensitive bezel on the side of the case. It was probably originally designed for the iPod, but it fits much better with a tablet, as frequently used features (like volume control or even the Mac OS Dock) can be conveniently and unobtrusively housed without cluttering the screen, all accessible by sliding a finger down the side of the device.
This next idea actually leaves Earth’s orbit, but we didn’t come up with it, Apple did: A patent from June 2004 describes microcameras distributed across an LCD screen, situated between the pixels. With this technology inside a panel, you could hold a video chat and look your caller right in the eye, rather than downwardly gazing as today’s top-mounted webcams have you do. Instead, the whole screen would become a camera, letting you use it not just for chitchat but also as an impromptu, giant photographic camera or even a quickie fax machine.
Of course, we can’t expect these innovations to appear all at once, and some may not make it into the tablet at all. But of this we are sure: The tablet is coming, and it’s going to be a hot one.
Back to The Drawing Board
Join us on a trip down memory lane into Apple’s patent archives as we explore six coulda-been products that never went anywhere (and probably never will).
The Proto-iMac 1995
Somewhere between the Mac Classic and the iconic Bondi Blue iMac lies this nameless invention, a prehistoric iMac that paved the way for the computer we know and love today.
For its time, it might have even been considered cool. Apple’s quaint patent sketch (above) shows integrated speakers for listening to AIFF files, what could be a Zip drive, and even a phone cradle and integrated modem so you could play Global Thermonuclear War with renegade government servers at NORAD. But mostly we love the idea of picking up that always-at-the-ready handset to order a pizza without
having to reach farther than our computer display