Most telling is a line in the application about the competitive advantages of haptic or "tactile" feedback found in other devices:
Unless touch input components are improved, users that, for example, drive a motor vehicle, may avoid devices that have a touch input component and favor those that have a plurality of physical input components (e.g., buttons, wheels, etc.).
Apple's proposal is to add haptic feedback to the iPhone's touchscreen via a grid of piezoelectric actuators that can be activated on command. MacRumors notes that by fluctuating the frequency of these actuators the user will "feel" different surfaces as their finger moves across it.
Another Apple patent application details the company's research into the use of biometrics and fingerprint detection in the iPhone. Fingerprint identification technology isn't new and has been available in Windows notebooks and PDAs for several years, but Apple's approach is different.
Rather than simply using a fingerprint for access control, the Apple patent focuses on identifying a user's individual fingers and mapping discrete functions to each. In Apple's example, a fingerprint from the user's index finger could be used to invoke the play command while a fingerprint from the middle finger could be mapped to fast-forward.
A third patent application involves embedding a radio-frequency identification (RFID) antenna in the iPhone or iPod touchscreen. While not initially compelling for consumer applications, RFID could be a boon in commercial applications.