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Apple patents all-seeing display

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Apple was granted a flurry of patents today, including one that describes a flat-panel display that doubles as a camera.

More on that "Integrated sensing display" in a moment. The other six patents are a curious mélange of history and forward-thinking ideas.

One merely describes how an iPod - or most any media player, for that matter - can keep status information in nonvolatile memory when switched off. No news there.

A second describes a more-efficient method of searching multiple metadata stores. A third extends Apple's ongoing work on resolution-independent displays, and builds on simliar patent applications filed in December 2006 and July 2007.

Also granted was a patent for an input rodent substantially similar to Apple's current love-it-or-hate-it Mighty Mouse, plus a design patent for "the ornamental design for a mouse."

Finally, the US Patent and Trademark Office also granted a patent for a dead product. A design patent for "the ornamental design for an [sic] speaker unit" describes Apple's late and unlamented - and overpriced - desktop boombox, the iPod Hi-Fi, which was introduced with much fanfare in early 2006 only to slip quietly into the dustbin of history in late 2007.

But it's the integrated-sensing display patent that gets our imaginative juices flowing. Essentially, the patent describes a flat panel in which each display element (pixel) is accompanied by an imaging element (sensor) with either a fixed-focus or zoomable lens. The display can thus act as a traditional display while simultaneously imaging an object - such as your face - in front of it.

In its simplest form, such a display could function as a digital mirror. Cameras such as Apple's built-in iSight devices can, of course, do the same today, but in this case, the eyes of the user would appear to be looking directly into the display and not at the display's bezel as in the current iSight iterations in Apple's iMacs, MacBooks, and the LED Cinema Display.

An integrated-sensing display coupled with face-recognition software could also be used for security, including parental controls - although little Johnny might quickly learn that a photo of daddy might work as well as the face of actual old man himself to unlock forbidden fruit. Gesture-recognition software could be used to interpret eye-blinks as mouse-clicks or a frown as a command to open one's Quicken stock-portfolio file.

The patent doesn't restrict itself to computer displays. It mentions that mobile phones and other handhelds "have very limited space for displays and would benefit if additional real estate were not used for a camera." It also describes how pixels could be used as light sources, thus enabling an integrated sensing display to be used "in dark spaces with little space, such as with a medical probe."

At your next doctor's visit, you may be treated to an iColonoscopy. ®

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