Apple’s ‘touchless’ touchscreen iPod revealed

“Sometimes Apple seems to just patent things for the heck of it. But its latest invention — a ‘touchless’ touchscreen for its iconic iPod music player — could be headed to market in short order. In its recent blockbuster earnings call, Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer hinted at new iPods coming soon. And last month, Terry Gou, the chairman of Hon Hai, a major contract manufacturer for Apple, blabbed about a ‘none-touch’ iPod on its way in the second half of the year,” Owen Thomas blogs for Business 2.0 and Fortune.

“Apple’s new patent shows a tablet-style iPod with a virtual scrollwheel that’s activated by the mere proximity of a finger — so you can manipulate the player without actually smudging the screen by touching it. If the patented device is the same as Gou’s ‘none-touch’ iPod, this idea could become reality in your pocket in a matter of months,” Thomas writes.

Full blog here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Judge Bork” for the heads up.]

Related articles:
More info surfaces regarding Apple’s latest iPod touch-screen patent filing – July 21, 2006
Hon Hai Chairman: Apple about to unveil next-gen iPod using a ‘none-touch’ concept – June 15, 2006

41 Comments

  1. Perhaps this is something that is geared towards a movie download service through iTunes. Which, incidently points to another mildly annoying issue – the name iTunes. Over the years iTunes has morphed into an app that no longer deals solely with songs, so much so that its almost become a joke. Managing all the media within a large iTunes library can be a little cumbersome despite smartfolders and the search bar. Adding movies to the equation compounds the problems. Perhaps Apple has also been working on a new sister app to separate the movies, TV shows, e-books, pdfs etc and ensure that iTunes remains devoted to audio.

    A tablet, flash-based media unit might very well have a market. Sit it on your desk at work, or on your beside table, even give it to the kids for that next road-trip to shut them up. Watching movies, TV shows, DVD rips, or browsing an e-book is a largely passive activity that still requires your attention. A hybrid product that fills this niche would be typical of Apple – not necessarily first to market, but able to do it better than all others. Combine this with everything they’ve learnt from the iTunes experience, their focus on home users and the opportunity to grab even more of the publics attention and mindshare, and perhaps we might be onto something. And, all of this wrapped up in a gorgeous, Iveian package with a touchless screen to-boot – sweeeeet.

    Now think about its future roadmap…

    Ahh, I love fanciful dreams at 2.20am. Just my 2 cents.

  2. I dunno. How realistic is this “hover your finger over the screen” idea? How close do you have to be? If you’re holding the iPod with one hand and “hovering” with the other, you’d need pretty steady hands not to touch the screen.

    Apple patents don’t always turn into something viable. Remember the “color-changing case” patent?

  3. First: this could easily be marketed as a “iPod” (vPod?) – even though it’s quite obviously a “tablet”. Steve’s neat little 4-sector plan would be ruined if this were released as a “Mac”. Use iPod technology, include the basic iPod software (and more), and you have a valid claim to the name.
    Second: that isn’t the size or shape. How can I know that? Because Apple wouldn’t do that unless it had to. And it doesn’t have to. Expect the shape to be 16×9 rather than the suggested 4X3 – showing movies and reading would be good – and no more than 10″ diagonal. Having used the 5″ screen on an Osbourne 1, I can assure you that an 8″ to 10″ screen would work just fine.
    Third (etc): It won’t be called a “Newton”.
    It may well be priced between the top iPod ($399) and the bottom Mac ($599).
    It’s market would be folks with ‘luggage’ – commuters, college students and road warriors.
    Yeah, and you can expect WiFi built in. And expensive cases.

    Seems obvious enough, once enough clues are dropped not-so-subtly about the landscape.

  4. (chuckle)
    It will be the “iPod video” and feature a dual-core version of the standard iPod processor, twice the RAM to deal with video buffering, and a 128 MB GPU.
    (/chuckle)

    Did I miss any techie buzz-words in there? Oh … and it will fry eggs.
    (yes, too much time on my hands today)

  5. You are all missing something big…

    The patent is for a technology that doesn’t require the user to physicaly touch any controls of the device.

    This technology can be applied to any size screen but it will definitely have to be bigger the the current screen size of the iPods to make it useable.

    So, lets say the screen of the largest iPod is doubled in size. Now with that much screen size on an iPod, it can handle many more things…

    even work as PDA device

    It already plays music, video, has a calendar, adress book. And if rumors are correct it will sport a touchless interface. Would it be much more to add support for applications that can work with both Macs and PCs.

    This will be a killer product.

  6. bjr, you can only fit a 4″ screen on the face of the current iPod. You can’t see much of your iTunes screen in that small a space and you certainly can’t get a good view of a movie (or even a tv show) in that small a space. I said I’ve used an Osbourne 1 with its 5″ screen, I didn’t say it was an exceptional user experience.

    Certainly, this is likely to be one of their plans for it – a 4″ screen on an otherwise little-changed iPod. But it seems as likely this will help them venture into tablet and movie territory as well – with at least an 8″ screen.

  7. I read the patent application. I didn’t see it as touchless, but rather as your finger approaches it senses it so it can pull up the correct overlay: such as a scrollwheel, or magnified buttons so that fingers could in essence touch very small objects. It also showed pulling up a typing keypad overlayed over the screen. This would expand the PDA possibilities a lot. Up till now, could not enter data (except song ratings). Move your finger to touch an input field, and it pulls up a typing keypad with a cursor inserted into the field. Cool!

  8. Something bigger might be nice for certain more or less static uses, but the advantage of any portable music/video player is small form factor and light weight(a few ounces).

    I am interested in a bigger screened iPod-but assuming for a moment this is actually the size and not an out of scale drawing-then I’m not interested at all in an “iPod” this big.

  9. Remember,

    All this is based on speculation and rumor. Apple could well introduce new larger iPod form factor. This would change everything.

    We should know something in about 2 weeks.

  10. The main problem I see with something like this being used with the iPod is that you’ll pretty much have to look at the screen when making adjustments; with the 5G iPod you can tell by feel where you are when it’s in a case. I can tell when I’m on the click wheel which makes it easy to adjust volume, forward through tracks etc.; the only time I have to take the case off my belt is to change playlists.

    I could see this possibly working with a PDA style device, perhaps one that held some audio or even video files, like downloading the previous night’s “Nightline” or the morning news reports to watch/listen to while on your morning train commute.

    MW=poor; IMNSHO, an iPod would be a poor use of touch-screen technology…

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