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Apple Imagines 3-D Multitouch Everywhere

multitouch patent

How about an intelligent multitouch grip on your golf club to tell you you're holding it well? Or a multitouch steering wheel to control your car radio? Or just a portable stretchy multitouch sheet to make, well, anything 3-D touchy? Apple's imagined (and patented) it all.

Apple has tried to "own" the idea of multitouch interfaces for a while, and though the tech is quickly catching on with a few pretenders to the throne (Google, with Android mainly although Microsoft is keen to get in on the act) it's really still Apple that's promoted the technology and pushed it into the public consciousness. How often have you jabbed at your PC's screen to try to get a window to scroll? (Or if you have kids, hand them any mobile screen and watch them try to touch it to make it move.)

Apple has big plans for the tech, Patently Apple reports. Big, grabby, 3-D real-world plans, and is patenting its ideas like crazy. The curvy Magic Mouse was just the start: Apple wants to put smart 3-D multitouch surfaces on everything.

Let's start with multitouch "skins" for sporting equipment. Apple imagines that a multitouch surface on the grip of your tennis racket could be darn useful. Once an embedded (or remote) PC collects data from the touchpad on how you're holding the device, it can really help with sports training—particularly in sports like golf. An on-racket display could even tell you how well you're doing. Combined with other positional or motion sensors, and the useful feedback they could create, this sounds like an evolution of the Nike+ system gone wild for basically every sport ever—including shooting or darts (an intelligent dart—imagine!).

How about a multitouch TV remote? One that merely relies upon the brush of your thumb to change channels?

Or a steering wheel that detects where you're gripping it, and can be used to turn on the wipers, or change your MP3 tracks without requiring you to lift your hands—as well as probably being able to work out if you're being a sloppy or sleepy driver? All of these are pretty plausible expansions of the tech, and we can imagine Apple leveraging its way into real-life products like this, with an iPhone or iPad acting as the display, data center and wireless cloud-based backup server.

There's no particular references to the technology that'd be required to make multitouch work in this way, though conceptually it's a big evolution in the tech that Apple's only begun to explore with the Magic Mouse—the patent is more about use cases, and framing the computer processes needed to make it work as a control interface.

multitouch patent

But it's the final bit of the patent that really shows how far out in the future Apple's thinking this tech will evolve: Imagine a portable sheet that's stretchy, conformable to different object's shapes, and which has all the electronics needed to process multitouch sensing embedded in it. Apple imagines you could drape it around the neck of a guitar to act as a digital fret interface. Or over a globe to give you 3-D feedback on—oh, who knows?

It's really far-out stuff, but it's also the kind of tech that may easily be in everyday use inside a handful of years ... at least, the more practical uses of it may be. We do think Apple's missing out on one revenue stream—perhaps ignoring the traditional "sex sells" epithet due to its usual straight-lacedness: Multitouch intelligent sex toys.

To read more news on this, and similar stuff, keep up with my updates by following me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.