Details have emerged of a United States Patent and Trademark Office filing that Apple made on the January 5th, 2007 for an innovative idea where an iPod (or perhaps an iPhone) has a full-sized LCD screen on one side and another, similarly sized force-sensitive touchpad on the rear of the device.
Incorporating this kind of technology into the iPod would result in a spectacularly stratospheric price increaseThe filing (available here, images here) makes for interesting reading. The idea is that not only does touching a screen cause ugly, unsightly (and distracting) smudges, but it also makes the device hard to use because it has to be held in one hand and operated by the other (unless it's small, like the iPod nano, or you have hands like a mutant gorilla). So, in response, the boffins at Apple have come up with is a way to separate the screen from the force-sensitive surface. In other words, put the screen on the front and the force-sensitive surface on the back.
Here's the highlight of the patent application:
In one embodiment the invention provides a method to operate an electronic device. The method includes displaying first information appropriate to the device's function on a display element on a top surface of the electronic device (e.g., video, graphic or textual information), displaying one or more control elements and a cursor on the display element (e.g., numeric or alphanumeric keys, buttons, sliders and control wheels), adjusting the cursor's displayed position in response to an object contacting a force-sensitive touch-surface on the device's bottom surface, and activating or executing a function associated with one of the control elements when the cursor is positioned "over" the control element and a force is applied to the force-sensitive touch-surface at a position corresponding to the cursor. In a preferred embodiment, the control elements are displayed transparently so that the first information is not totally occluded by the display of the control elements.
It's a pretty clever idea and, if you try experimenting with the idea say on your cellphone (try pretend dialing the keypad with your finger on the back of the phone) you quickly discover that it's not as crazy an idea as it seems at first. With some on-screen feedback this could become a workable solution.
Some websites and blogs are sounding like we're going to be seeing this technology in use by Apple soon. I seriously doubt it. Incorporating this kind of technology into the iPod would result in a spectacularly stratospheric price increase. Also, as cool at this technology is, there's no need for it yet, the iPods are already selling as fast as Apple can make them. The iPod has no competitor (none come even close, all the others are little pinpricks on the horizon) so this kind of leap in technology is currently not justified.
Still, it's a really neat idea.