Apple's Magic Trackpad is more than you think

Apple introduced a host of new products today. These suggest something I've thought for a while: Apple is putting together the user ecosystem it will need for future touch-based 3D user interfaces. They also hint at further adventures in SSD across the AAPL product range.

To recap today's big news:

Apple's latest Mac upgrades are its fastest desktops yet, while introduction of the long-anticipated Magic Trackpad underlines the importance the company attaches to touch interfaces across its product range.

[This story is from the new Apple Holic blog at Computerworld. Subscribe via RSS to make sure you don't miss a beat.]

There's even a hint or two at the future of the iPod classic, with Apple's introduction of SSD drives for the new desktop Macs.

Apple's latest desktops include quad-core and 6-core Intel Xeon processors inside the new super-speedy Mac Pros; Intel Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 processor-powered iMacs with the best graphics yet; and a Magic Trackpad, which offers all the features of a MacBook family trackpad, but is much larger and works with your desktop Mac.

Apple has also introduced a new 27-inch LED monitor with a 2,560-x-1,440 resolution; it hosts speakers, USB ports and an iSight camera. Apple surprised us all with its introduction of a self-branded battery charger.

Put simply, the new desktops put paid to all the old-time, PowerPC-based arguments claiming Macs are slower. These Macs are fast, boasting motherboard, memory (now much faster than before) and graphics technologies designed to boost performance speeds -- even on these multi-core processors.

The case for solid state

That both desktops are now available with SSD that (on the Mac Pro) maxes out at 512GB is pretty interesting. It indicates several things:

  1. Apple has established significant supply.
  2. Apple now offers SSD-based products across its product range: iPod, iPhone, iPad, MacBook and desktop Macs are all now available using these drives.

I don't know how much the 512GB SSD drives for the Mac Pro will cost. You can extrapolate the cost will be pretty high, as the 256GB SSD for the iMac costs $600. At these prices, these parts aren't (quite) ready for the mass market. Prices will fall leading to the following conclusions:

  1. When updated, the MacBook Air will likely be available with similar capacity: 256GB and 512GB -- hard drives.
  2. Apple now has the option to offer a 128GB iPod model, albeit at a premium price (for reference, the 64GB iPod touch, which uses SSD, costs $399). I don't quite believe Apple will offer a 128GB iPod touch as part of its September refresh.

As a Mac user, I look forward to the day when it will be affordable for more of us to opt for SSD drives inside our computers. Just restart an iPod touch, iPhone or iPad to get a sense of start-up speeds, and imagine the performance enhancements. That time is coming. It isn't quite here yet.

Apple's 3D future

Apple is developing 3D user interfaces. (Just take a look at this revealing page of Google results for the query, 'Apple 3D user interface'). It has patents for these, and the new Magic Trackpad is a key step in the company's attempt to educate a population of customers into a position to fully use its new advanced UI dreams.

Users of both desktops and notebooks from Apple will be educated in touch-based gesture computing. An essential step to Apple's purported plan.

At least, that's my opinion.

What is the Magic Trackpad? It is the first Multi-Touch trackpad designed to work with a Mac desktop. It uses the same Multi-Touch technology that you find on a MacBook Pro, but consider this (from Apple's website):

"When you perform gestures, you actually interact with what's on your screen. You feel closer to your content, and moving around feels completely natural. Swiping through pages on screen is just like flipping through pages in a magazine, and inertial scrolling senses the momentum in your fingers as you move up and down a page."

This is about creating a new UI paradigm, based on a more sensory perception of digital reality.

Last month, Patently Apple revealed a host of 3D interface patents, these include patents for 3D widgets, which "deliver different features, attributes of functionality depending on which side of the widget you click on."

The site told us about Apple's next plans for a new high-end 3D interface way back in December 2009. Imagine a 3D experience in which you virtually reach into your computer screen using MultiTouch. Also imagine what your iSight camera could be doing once the software is developed which allows that camera to detect motion and accept control, or control adjustment signals, via head movement.

Or arm movement. Or arm movement, touch and voice. (Is this why Google Voice didn't make the cut last year?)

Take a look took at this 3D user interface patent from way back in 2008. This is all about ways to explore your desktop (on a mobile device or a computer) using 3D and multitouch. Kind of like Second Life, but useful. And less laggy. (Hopefully).

Google is already running scared. It acquired Bump in May. And guess what? They make a 3D solution called BumpTop. This lets users make 3D objects out of files on their Windows desktops.

What is Apple plannning? I can't quite say. I'm curious about its experiments with eyeglass technology.

I'm also curious as to the true function of the head and hands inside the Apple testing labs (*cough*, reception testing, speculates one report). Image below from Urban Geek, itself a still from an ABC News report, also below.


Signing off, I'm just full of questions:

  • How would you use a 3D user interface?
  • In which situations do you think it would be of most use? Games? Medical procedures? Education?
  • And how could this be applied in future experiments in 3D music and movie making?

Is this a hint?

UC San Diego combined a $2,300 Samsung 3D TV with a mirror and a touch-feedback controller to come up with a haptic-enabled heads-up virtual reality system.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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