There's nothing like an Apple patent to get the tech community in a spin, and the latest one to arrive from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and unearthed by the wonderfully partisan Patently Apple website is a good one.
The patent, called 'Transitioning Between Modes Of Input', was filed back in July last year, and published in January of this year. It describes how a PC might transition "between a high-resolution input mode, such as a mouse-based interface, and a low-resolution input mode, such as a touch-based interface".
It goes on to explain various methodologies for achieving this, such as detecting the screen's orientation - upright for normal desktop operation, slanted to transition to lower-resolution touch UI. It also explains the stand design of a future iMac Touch, which would feature two hinges to enable a smooth transition between desktop and 'tablet' modes.
Apple has also submitted alternative systems whereby strategically placed sensors detect when you want to use the touch UI mode, thus enabling the machine to be used in touch mode when upright.
Also included is a mock-up of a laptop that clearly has a tablet style rotating hinge, adding that "the display could also be oriented for touch input. For example, the display 1130 may be rotated and laid flat against the keyboard 1134, with the backside of the display facing down against the keyboard so that the display screen is facing up, in an orientation for touch input".
Of course, trying to patent a tablet PC would be spurious in the extreme. However, the patent concerns itself solely in the transition between a normal PC UI and a touch one, not the mechanism itself - not that this isn't without dispute, either. Patent law is best left to the professionals, clearly.
It's all fairly interesting stuff, and a natural progression for a company famed for the touch UI of iOS 4 and the iPhone 4. We must admit to thinking the whole process of switching between different UIs a troubling one, but the fact that Apple is thinking at all along these lines provides food for thought. Would you buy a touchscreen iMac, or would a MacBook Tablet be more your kind of thing?