• Apple Working on "Virtual Input Tools"

    Yet another really complex Apple patent has been uncovered by Jack Purcher, who runs the Patently Apple site, and this one's a doozy. Apple's apparently working on new touchscreen controls which it calls "virtual input tools." The screen would display an image of, say, a trackpad in 2D or 3D, and you'd use the virtual trackpad the same way you'd use a physical trackpad. I'm having a pretty hard time wrapping my head around this one, but Purcher is really excited about it, suggesting that it could be the "revolutionary OS feature" that Apple was hiring software engineers to work on. Hmm.

    The basic idea is that you have a virtual trackpad mapped to your existing trackpad. In fact, one of the drawings shows exactly that: a laptop with a virtual trackpad on the screen, showing how using the virtual trackpad is just like using the real trackpad. What neither Purcher nor the Apple inventor, John Louch, explains is why you would need a virtual trackpad when you already have a real one. The clue seems to be in the interactivity of the virtual input device. Interface windows, documents (e.g., videos, images, text), file directories, and applications can be displayed on the virtual trackpad and you could select them directly. Or the virtual trackpad can respond to input by animating the image on the screen, by becoming three dimensional, or by playing a video clip or an audio clip.

    This patent is particularly interesting when viewed in light of the news out this morning about the possibility of Apple working on an iMac with a touchscreen. Though it's not discussed in either the patent or the article, you could use the virtual trackpad on a touchscreen computer that has no keyboard or mouse. Rather than touching interface elements directly - and thus covering them with your finger - you can use the virtual trackpad to control a pointer on the screen.

    The language of the patent is pretty dense, as these things tend to be - for example "if a user provides input at position 226 through the trackpad 220, the virtual input device application can map the physical coordinates of position 226 to corresponding virtual coordinates that indicate a user's intent to interact with virtual object 246 in the virtual trackpad 240" - but the general idea is pretty straightforward: replacing the Finder as we know it now with a "virtual input device." What would this actually look like? Your guess is as good as mine, but let's remember that the inventor, John Louch, is also the guy who worked on Apple's 2008 patent for a three dimensional Mac OS X called "Multi-Dimensional Desktop."

    Source: 9to5Mac
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