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Apple patents convergent handheld ... thing

Er. That's it

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Apple has filed to protect an invention it calls a "multi-functional hand-held device," a device with a user-interface that changes according to function.

We'd love to give you more details, but that's all there is. The patent application discloses no invention at all, if you define "invention" (as Mirriam Webster's does) to include a creation "(a new device or process)". It's much like Apple's "tamper resistent code" patent we saw last year - the disclosure documentation almost entirely conceals the invention - making a mockery of the process - leaving the tax-payer to pick up the bill for the charade.

In the submission, published today, Apple says that the invention is a way of operating a handheld device with limited buttons that includes two or more functions including PDA, mobile phone, music player, camera, video player, game player, "handtop" (whatever that is), net terminal, GPS and remote control.

There's aren't many new phones that don't include most of these features, leading to speculation that Apple has come up with a new smartphone user interface. But can it add anything really new?

Multi-tasking, perhaps: the "hand-held electronic device is operable to receive simultaneous inputs from different inputs devices and perform actions based on the simultaneous inputs." Expect Symbian and Microsoft to be burning the midnight oil there.

And what's this? Apple's invention can classify "one or more touches as a primary touch or a secondary touch; filtering out the secondary touches; differentiating whether the primary touch is a light touch or a hard touch; initiating a control event if the primary touch is a light touch; and implementing a selection event if the primary touch if a hard touch."

A bit like holding down the '1' key to dial voicemail, then. Whatever will they think of next?

Besides, if it doesn't have a Hob Nob dispenser, we're simply not interested.

Every year, to coincide with the latest feverish speculation, it seems we are obliged to dust down a version of our why "Apple shouldn't do a smartphone" story. After all, little has changed since 2002, when Needham & Co analyst and Apple-watcher Charles Wolf took the Rorschasch blot test and proclaimed that "When you connect the dots, you end up at a phone."

Except one thing. Smartphones are a fact of life now, with Symbian notching up 100m alone. But the user interfaces haven't evolved gracefully. The best of the bunch, Symbian's UIQ, has overnight degenerated from a thing of beauty which once had Steve Jobs in raptures, to something only a committee of satanic Asian remote control designers could come up with. Have a look for yourselves - it's X-rated stuff.

Given the state of today's latest smartphone user interfaces, phone manufacturers could use a lesson in the virtues of simplicity.

And now pundits have a Rorschasch patent to go with the blot test. ®

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