Apple applies for virtual clickwheel patent
Paves the way for gesture-driven, context-sensitive iPods and tablet Macs
Claims that Apple is preparing an iPod-branded video player were strengthened late last week when it emerged the company has filed a patent application for exactly the kind of virtual clickwheel technology the new device has been said to sport.
The concept is embedded in US patent number 20060026535, originally filed with the US Patent Office on 18 January 2005 but updated on 2 February this year. The application details a "mode-based graphical user interfaces for touch sensitive input devices", which generates and operates virtual GUI control elements depending on where the user touches the screen.
Drawings accompanying the application show not only a virtual clickwheel, but a device not unlike the tablet computer Apple patented in Europe in August 2004. It was described as a "handheld computer" looking not unlike an iBook screen minus the keyboard. The virtual control patent application shows such a machine running a range of apps, among them iTunes, iPhoto and a word processor, each with virtual controllers representing physical equivalents, including a keyboard and clickwheel.
Virtual keyboards and nothing new, and Palm has had virtual character entry systems for some time. What's central to Apple claims is novel is the way the host system can create and remove a wide range of virtual controllers according to what the user is doing at any given time. The patent application also taps into an earlier application filed by the company for a gesture recognition system for touch-sensitive devices.
The system has clear applications beyond iPods and tablet Macs - we'd like to suggest a basic control box to allow anyone owning an Airport Express-connected hi-fi to select what songs their music-hosting computer is pumping out across the WLAN. Or as a remote viewer for network hosted media content. ®