On Nov. 30, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published an application from the Cupertino, Calif., company for the patent on a handheld computing device.
While the patent, which is listed as Serial Number 501184, does not specifically mention the long-rumored iPhone, it does hint that Apple appears to be moving forward with its plans for a cell phone that possibly includes some type of iTunes tie-in.
According to the application, Apple is asking for a patent for "A portable computing device capable of wireless communications, the portable computing device comprising: an enclosure that surrounds and protects the internal operational components of the portable computing device, the enclosure including a structural wall formed from a ceramic material that permits wireless communications."
This "seamless tube" device would be formed from ceramic walls made from either zirconia, a material used to make certain types of gems but that also has use as an insulator, or alumina, another type of insulator.
The application also reveals that this new device is to contain an internal antenna and a user interface subsystem with a display and a touch-pad.
The concept of an Apple iPhone has been talked about on Web sites and by analysts for months, but so far the company has not offered any specific comment about this or other future devices. A company spokesperson could not be reached for comment about the Nov. 30 filing.
On Sept. 11, Gene Munster, a senior analyst with Piper Jaffray, that wrote Apple would unveil the iPhone within four to six months. On Nov. 11, Shaw Wu, an analyst with American Technology Research, wrote in a research paper to his clients that Apple appeared to be working on a second iPhone that will work with iTunes and with iChat.
Other articles, which have cited overseas sources, report that Apple has already place orders for the first generation of iPhones. Wus research paper said the first iPhone could be ready for the market by early 2007, and would look something like the iPod Nano music player.
Apple is planning a number of releases in 2007, including the launch of its new Mac operating system, called Leopard, and a new feature called iTV.
Apple originally filed for the handheld computer device patent on Aug. 7. The patent office also published several other Apple applications on Nov. 30, including binding UI objects, a camera latch and a method of utilization of podcasts on portable media devices.