Apple's magic touch displays in future UIs

"Reach out and touch" isn't just part of the opening refrain from Depeche Mode's rather popular ditty, 'Personal Jesus.' Increasingly it seems to be the mantra above the desks of Apple's research and development experts as they assemble the elements for the future Apple UI.

We've looked at Apple's moves to embrace touch in its products before. We know that for Macs the reaching and touching is unlikely to be on the screen (though who could forget this splendid patent here?) and more likely to be through an evolution of the existing user interface.

This is why the glass-based trackpads on current portable Macs and the Magic Trackpad are so capable of handling MultiTouch gestures. It's an evolutionary thing.

Display mouse

A fresh patent revelation today posits a Magic Mouse which includes a multi-touch display. The patent ("Computer Input Device Including a Display Device") shows a mouse with a display on its top that would be able to show you display information or contextual input options. This iteration is nothing like the Cooler Master Storm Gaming mouse that blipped briefly some time back, so read on...

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The patent says the technologies could also be used in other future iterations of the iPhone, iPod touch, a MacBook trackpad or other stand alone devices. Pervasive and unified user interfaces are critical.

Patently Apple notes that part of this filing tells us the display could show/act as a calculator when you are working in Numbers, or magnify text (using collimated glass components) when you are working on Pages. It can change to meet your needs in response to whatever it is you are attempting to do.

Naturally this interface would also work with other applications and devices -- so in future it is possible to imagine using your iPhone as an insanely great element within your Mac experience. The patent already looks at use in combination with a touch. It also explains ways in which you could display images using the device -- not just useful in productive terms, but also, perhaps, bringing your desktop wallpaper to your mouse. Or video, the patent explains.

Communicate and switch the other

Apple says  it thinks it might get easier to use a computer if we all had input devices which were "more communicative" to the user.

I've speculated before on the notion that the keyboard itself could be a sheet of MultiTouch-savvy glass capable of changing its configuration and keyboard layout depending on what Apps you were running on your Mac.

Critics rejected the idea because they prefer the physical feedback you get from a traditional keyboard. A second Apple patent shows the company has spent time thinking about this.

It tells us about advanced haptic systems designed to give you tactile sensations when you use a virtual keyboard, an attempt to emulate the sensations you rely on when using a regular keyboard. (Also ponder this 2006 patent which shows more research exploring a virtual keyboard capable of configuring itself different ways at different times.)

I wonder what the time scales might be?

Spare parts maker, GlobalDirectParts (who recently published and then removed what was claimed to be a video showing the iPhone 5) this week published images of what it claimed to be the iPad 2 LCD screen, along with what it described as an 'iPad Vibrating Motor'.

Does this imply physical feedback when using your iPad is on the way? And why stop there in the Apple-created touch ecosystem?

State of independence

Some already hope for resolution independence for iOS apps within iOS 5. Interestingly, resolution independence is also mooted to make an appearance within the iOS-savvy future of the Mac OS, Lion.

There's controversy about the iPad's future graphics resolution (wonder if there's more than one iPad planned?) but the following statement from Digitimes hints at how resolution-independence could become crucial when using Apple devices.

"Apple has also recently started adjusting its iBooks 1.1 application with some designs for bookmark icons to allow it to support the larger resolution, noted the sources adding that the larger resolution should provide the company’s App developers more convenience, while all future applications will be able to run under any of Apple’s machines including the 27-inch iMac.”

What's happening here?

Apple is moving to unify its entire user experience across a plethora of always-connected devices. Which sounds simple, though it isn't, and all the devices will support a common touch-based interface.

This goes further than you think -- you'll use an App on your Mac, or your iPhone, or (potentially) on your Apple TV. The experience will be close to identical on all these devices, with some slight changes in interface. You'll turn round one day and realise that, with iOS and OS X devices connected at their UNIX core, you don't just have a series of diverse products, you also have a unified, infinitely flexible and powerful computing platform.

Throw in some social networking and cloud-based access to everything that you own in the digital world and your iPhone isn't just a phone anymore, and your iPad is something rather more enticing than a low cost, low-power netbook.

What do you think? Drop me a line via Twitter or in comments below and let me know. If you know anything more please share it here, and I'd like to invite you to follow me on Twitter so I can let you know when these items are published here first on Computerworld.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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