Apple Files Touch-Screen Patent, Possibly for iMac

Apple filed a European patent for a PC capable of shifting between touch-screen and traditional keyboard-and-mouse input, leading to speculation that the company could be preparing an iMac or other device capable of using both. Apple's touch-screen products, including the iPad, have seen notable marketplace success.

Could a touch-screen iMac appear in the near future?

That's the question drifting around the blogosphere, after Patently Apple uncovered an Apple patent showing a PC capable of shifting between touch-screen and traditional keyboard-and-mouse input. The patent's accompanying diagrams show an iMac-like PC in profile, with the screen capable of hinging upwards to activate touch-enabled mode.

The patent was originally filed in Europe July 9, 2009, and published Jan. 14. "While touch-based input is well-suited to many applications, conventional styles of input, such as mouse/keyboard-based input, may be preferred in other applications," reads the patent's opening description. "Therefore, it may be desirable for some devices to provide for touch-based input as well as mouse/keyboard-based input."

The transition between traditional and touch-screen inputs could occur, the patent suggests, when the screen is tilted vertically beyond a certain preset angle: "One embodiment could utilize an accelerometer in combination with rotation sensors at two hinges of an adjustable stand. Yet another embodiment could utilize a combination of rotation sensors and touch sensor areas." The user would presumably have granular control over what degree of angle would activate one of the two input modes.

The patent also describes certain graphical "transition effects" that would signify that change in modes, including icons sliding off the edges of the screen. However, the document makes no specific mention of operating systems, leaving it to speculation whether a touch-screen iMac would rely on the smartphone-centric iOS4, the PC-based Mac OS X, or some hybrid solution.

If Apple eventually crafts PCs with touch-screen functionality, it would follow other manufacturers' hybrid laptops and other devices that run a touch-enabled version of Windows 7.

It's been a big week so far for Apple-patent hunters, who also discovered that the company filed a patent application in August that would restrict unauthorized users' access to mobile devices such as iPhones. Application number 20100207721, which can be found on the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office's database, describes methods for detecting those unauthorized users, locking down the device, and then alerting the original owner.

Apple sold 3.47 million Macs during the third fiscal quarter of 2010, along with 8.4 million iPhones, 3.27 million iPads, and 9.41 million iPods, on its way to earning total revenues of $15.7 billion. An increase in those sales numbers could make Apple the world's second-largest OEM semiconductor buyer in 2011, according to a July 21 note by research firm iSuppli.