Apple's long-rumored tablet PC received another burst of attention after Apple submitted a new patent application for touch-screen functionality. Despite a refusal by Apple to confirm any rumors, reports have suggested that CEO Steve Jobs has devoted a great deal of attention to the device, which may debut in the first half of 2010, include a 10-inch screen and run a version of the iPhone OS.
Apple filed a patent application in June 2009 for a touch-screen interface, indicating that its rumored plans for a tablet PC could be well under way, according to reports that surfaced on Oct. 2.
The patent application, which can be found here, describes a device whose screen could be manipulated with not only the fingers of both hands, but also palms. In theory, this allows for a broad range of activities beyond multitouch navigation, including typing or drawing.
As proposed, the underlying electronics of the device would allow for an easier sensing of various hand configurations, provide an ergonomic surface that would adjust to different hand sizes, and offer some style of feedback without necessarily interfering with a stray hand or finger resting on the device. If enacted along the lines presented in the application, the device would comprehend the movements of two hands moving simultaneously to manipulate a photo or other media document.
"It is a primary object of the present invention," the patent reads, "to provide a system and method for integrating different types of manual input such as typing, multiple degree-of-freedom manipulation, and handwriting on a multi-touch surface."
The document seems to suggest a device that has more in common with the gee-whiz touch-screens used by Tom Cruise in the 2002 film "Minority Report," and less with the iPhone, the form factor with which the rumored tablet PC has been most often compared.
Apple has made no official comment to confirm or deny the tablet, but the rumor mill has nonetheless been steadily gearing up over the past few months.
According to The Wall Street Journal, which cited those ever-useful "people familiar with the situation," Apple CEO Steve Jobs "has been pouring almost all of his attention into a new touch-screen gadget." Development of the tablet PC, the report stated, was reset twice after Jobs became dissatisfied with potential devices' battery life and internal memory capacity. Jobs himself e-mailed the Journal to state "most of your information is incorrect" with regard to the story.
Despite that, a number of media outlets and bloggers, occasionally in conjunction with "people familiar with the situation," have attempted to discern the tablet PC's final form.
An Aug. 7 research report by Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster suggested that the tablet could be based off the iPhone OS, with apps designed for a higher-resolution 7- to 10-inch screen, or else a modified version of the Mac OS X. Munster also thought the device would retail somewhere in the $500 to $700 range, and sell 2 million units in its first year of release, translating into around $1.2 billion in revenue for Apple.
Other sources have likewise speculated that the device will come with a 10-inch touch-screen, include 3G connectivity and debut sometime in the first half of 2010.
Earlier this week, Apple added more fuel to the fire by announcing that it had hired Michael Tchao, a former developer of Apple's Newton personal digital assistant, to become its vice president of product marketing.
Although Apple did not return eWEEK's request for comment about the issue, The New York Times reported-and Apple spokesperson Steve Dowling confirmed-that Tchao has joined the company. His exact role is being kept under wraps, but speculation abounds that Tchao could have been brought on board to help Apple prepare for a tablet PC's release.
The Newton, one of the first digital assistants, utilized elements such as object-oriented graphics that anticipated many of the aspects of today's handheld devices. However, the device died a messy death in 1998, in the midst of Steve Jobs eliminating a variety of Apple projects in an attempt to return the company to profitability.
Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.