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Patent granted 2008. ETA: 2010
How to keep the iPhone’s spacious screen, but shrink its overall size? Add a flip panel.
In a patent so new its ink is barely dry, we found an idea that made us flip our wigs: a flip-phone version of the iPhone, offering all the features of the original, but about an inch shorter. Think of it as an iPhone mini. In true-to-Apple form, it doesn’t stop there—the device will also include a dual-sided, transparent touchpad that you can use while the unit is open or closed.
While few would dare to call the iPhone bulky—it’s slim and flat, after all—you’d have to be a fool to pooh-pooh a smaller version. Tiny is big, and something combining the cachet of an iPhone with the ability to fit in a pair of skinny jeans would attract the throngs of fans already in love with their Airs, minis, nanos, and shuffles.
But how would a flip-down cover help the device? For starters, a touchpad can be made of tougher stuff than an LCD, so it could act as a protective cover for the more delicate screen when closed. But because it’s transparent, you could still see and use the screen without opening it up. Flip it open, and the outer surface would switch off, letting you use the other side of the cover for the old swipe-and-pinch, as with the current iPhone. This offers two benefits: Your fingers wouldn’t obstruct your view of the LCD, and because you keep your mitts off the screen, its glass would stay smudge-free (except in the case of those afflicted with greasy-ear syndrome). And on a smaller device, the idea of doubling the working area shouldn’t be discounted.
You might think punching in a phone number on a transparent piece of plastic would be a pain, but Apple has it dialed in. The patent describes several different methods for making it easy to enter a phone number, including etching polarized numbers on the surface that are visible from an angle, software that lets you draw numbers with your finger, and even embedding tiny LEDs throughout the surface to illuminate the numbers. This last idea is the hands-down coolest—and the one we hope to see.
It doesn’t stop with the iPhone. Just as the idea of old-school touchpads has jumped from device to device, so could this invention. Images included with the patent show a notebook with a transparent pane totally replacing a traditional keyboard.
The resulting chimera is part iMac, with all of its components behind the screen,
and part tablet, letting you use it with a stylus or finger when the protective cover is shut. And let’s not forget the iPod: The whole line could benefit from the screen-protection and enhanced navigation of this patent.
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 O.G. iPhone, 1994
Had this invention gone to market, you could’ve had an iPhone some 13 years before the Joneses.
As sleek as a walrus and weighing at least half a pound, this is not the svelte wireless handset you’re familiar with today. Features would have included a monochrome, text-only screen, a flip-down mouthpiece, and an extendable antenna for better reception on the AMPS network. It also offers a removable radio card, suggesting an early mobile modem that could have been socketed into your PowerBook.
Don’t be too hard on it, however. Cells were all pretty portly back then. Small phones didn’t arrive until the Motorola StarTAC “wearable cell phone” hit U.S. shores in 1996, so this was probably a pretty swanky design. At the very least it could have kicked any StarTAC’s butt in a cage match