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Apple granted 22 patents including trackpads, iPhone circuit boards and more


Every once in a while Apple gets granted a big chunk of patents all at once, and this is one of those times. In addition to an Apple TV patent we've described in its own post, Apple's been granted over 20 other patents ranging from advanced trackpads to iPhone circuit board designs and beyond.

Patently Apple describes the advanced trackpad as "a touchpad that extends into the palm rest areas." Three different touch-sensitive areas would essentially extend Multi-Touch functionality to the entire lower half of a notebook like the MacBook Air, but the design would be smart enough to distinguish between a hand or wrist simply resting on the surface versus a user intentionally tapping and swiping at the surface.

An alternative or possibly supplemental design feature describes a "hand detecting sensor," mounted near or within the current housing for iSight/FaceTime cameras, that would enable tracking of hand movements for user inputs. This sounds similar in principle to the system used in Microsoft's Kinect and Sony's EyeToy.

Another patent describes a context-sensitive earpiece accessory that's capable of knowing whether it's inserted in a user's ear or not and adjusting both its own behavior and the behavior of its linked device accordingly. In other words, the earpiece would be smart enough to switch an iPhone's audio to the earpiece when it's inserted in your ear, but audio would automatically resume playing over the iPhone's built-in speakers once the earpiece is removed.

A patent for "smart garments" expands on the existing features of the Nike + iPod device by potentially expanding beyond the running/shoe focused implementation we have now. Among other things, the sensor is designed to alert a user when the garment reaches its "expected useful lifetime" based on tracked usage -- hopefully this kind of alert is easy to disable, because I for one wouldn't appreciate my shoes prodding me to buy new ones every time I put them on. Apple describes expanding the Nike+ tech beyond running to "cross-country skiing, in-line skating, or outdoor swimming," as some examples, further indication that Nike+ may one day spread beyond shoes.

Yet another patent describes one way Apple may continue to shrink circuit boards for devices like the iPhone and iPad. Rather than being spread over the board like houses in the suburbs, chips get stacked on top of one another like floors in a skyscraper. As best I can tell from the teardowns Apple hasn't actually started doing this yet, but it could be one way to make logic boards for future products take up even less space than they do now.

Some of the recently-granted patents describe items Apple's already had on store shelves for quite some time, but many of them describe features that haven't yet made it to market -- and they may never actually do so. It's still instructive to look at the kinds of patents Apple files and gets granted, though, because they're often a decent barometer of where the company's interests lie.

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