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Apple Rumors: Touchscreen iMacs, Better Audio on iPhones, and OS X's Clever 3-D Controller

Apple patent screen

It wouldn't have been a complete week in tech news without some hot-to-trot Apple rumors hitting. And here they are: A fascinating hint that the iMac may be getting a makeover, and two patents that chart the future of iPhone audio, and 3-D Mac/iDevice controller connections.

Touchscreen iMacs

We've been hearing for ages about a refresh to the iMac lineup that'll borrow form iPad/iPhone tech to turn the all-in-one PCs into a tiny version of Microsoft's Surface product--Apple's even patented elements of the design and shown how one may be able to adapt the iMac stand to swivel the screen flatter for more finger-friendliness.

Now there's news, via fairly reliable rumor source DigiTimes, that Sintek Photonics has sent sample versions of large glass-based touchscreens to Apple for design evaluation for the next-gen iMac production effort. The thinking is that production of the large-scale screens Apple would need is tricky, and current capacity to produce them is limited, which puts Sintek with its 5.3G generation production lines primed and ready in a good position to become Apple's supplier should the nice guys at Cupertino deign to bring a touchy iMac to reality.

We're inclined to believe there's a nugget of truth in all this: Touchscreen all-in-ones are becoming more common, but they're often clunky manufacturer bolt-on layers on top of a Windows installation. The set-up is crying out for Apple to bring some of its design goodness to bear, and the iMac is a perfect candidate. It's also about time Apple refreshed the design, which has looked more or less the same for several years now, and letting it go stale just isn't Apple's style.

And then there's one more intriguing thought: A touchscreen iMac is the very next step along the road to having iOS-driven Macs.

iPhone Audio "Sensory" Boost

The iPhone's audio quality is pretty good, particularly since it now incorporates environmental noise-canceling tech to eliminate some of the background pollution from calls. But Apple's not content, and has a new patent for a wholly new acoustic system that uses several sensor inputs to boost the phone's audio qualities--particularly for incoming audio signals. It's all about physical sensors to detect acoustic leakage (sound signals using unusual paths to get to your ear, like along the phone's surface, and resulting in distortion). The new system would include tiny transducers that would detect how your face is pressed up against the iPhone's surface and do clever digital processing to eliminate unwanted audio signals.

The upshot: You'd be able to hear incoming calls much more clearly, and thanks to mic noise-canceling, your caller could hear you better too. It's also worth noting that this tech is neither too difficult nor too expensive to build into a phone's design, and the iPhone 5 could easily sport it.

Mac Virtual Input Device

This is a tricky one, but as Patently Apple notes it may be illuminated when you remember Apple posted a job opening for a "revolutionary new OS X feature" earlier this year. The patent is all about a virtual input device application for controlling your Mac.

Think of it like this: Your control surface, which may be a Mac's trackpad, or the touchscreen on an iPad or iPhone, is a real physical-world thing. In the new interface, it gets mapped into the desktop environment of OS X as a virtual representation of the real-world trackpad (a mini virtual reality effect). This instantly enables all sorts of clever touch controls--like instead of a mouse pointer, you touch and then move a virtual representation of a desktop icon you want to relocate. It could enable more intuitive flick-throughs of CoverFlow representations of files, and at the least it'll speed up how you interact with the machine because it's a more efficient system.

The idea is essentially the next progression of a windows/icons/mice interface in our new multitouch world--it's about breaking down the barriers between controlling the Mac and wiggling your fingers in real-life. Think a simplified version of that old cliché Minority Report, crossed with Microsoft's Surface and the iPad, and appearing on your Mac's screen as part of a new 2-D/3-D interface with your iPad as a remote control pad.

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