Apple rumor roundup: iPhone patent 4.0 edition

On today's edition of the never-ending Apple rumor roundup, we take a quick detour into the murky realm of the United States patent database, topped off with a charming unsourced tip and some delightful analyst conjecture. Let's blaze.

The rumor: A recent Apple patent application for a capacitive touchscreen-specific stylus may or may not mean The Tablet uses a stylus for input.
Our take: We've already promised to eat our hat if Apple puts a removable battery in the iPhone, so what's next? A shoe? We will eat a shoe if Steve Jobs introduces a product that requires the use of a stylus. Besides, this product already exists: it's called the Pogo Stylus, and it's not exactly rocking minds (although we are intrigued by Inklet). Apple likes to file silly broad patent applications and see what it can get away with -- it's never been wise to read too much into them.

The rumor: Another Apple patent application hints that portable DVR functionality is coming to the iPod / iPhone -- you'll be able to grab TV and radio content from cable, satellite, OTA, or using "services" with your portable device and then load that into iTunes. Not only will you be able to connect new iPods to a cable box to record shows -- channel changing and everything -- but Apple's going to release an accessory for older iPods to enable this functionality as well.

Our take: This would be like a dream come true for the consumer, and a crazy heroin nightmare for Apple to actually implement -- can you imagine an iPod with a freaking CableCARD slot? Neither can we. Besides, it's not like Apple to push content sales from anything other than the iTunes Store, and it's especially not like Apple to extend functionality to older iPods when it can just release a newer one in a slightly different metallic finish. Next!

The rumor: The extremely well-known Robert Chen of Goldman Sachs says a new iPhone will go into production this April with availability in June or July, and that the back of the phone will be touch-sensitive plastic, much like the Magic Mouse and that Synaptics Fuse demo unit we just played with. AppleInsider takes this a step further and points to -- what else? -- an Apple patent application describing something just like that.
Our take: Surprisingly, this one of the more plausible rumors we've heard yet. Taken alone, it certainly seems to make sense: the iPhone release schedule up till now would indicate a new model coming in June, so production could certainly begin ramping up in April, and hey -- why not a touch-sensitive back panel? It would certainly make gaming much more interesting. That said, Goldman Sachs and Robert Chen are in this game to make money and we're unfamiliar with his track record, so we're not assuming any of this is accurate. Still, a nice mix of the insane and the believable here -- someone's been practicing at home.

The rumor: iPhone OS 4.0 is coming soon -- a "prominent app developer" sent CNET's Rick Broida an email saying they'd "submitted an updated app for the new iPhone OS 4.0 software." That obviously means iPhone OS 4.0 is coming, like, tomorrow.
Our take: We haven't gotten any independent tips about this email, so maybe only Rick got it. Even still, we still think that whatever Apple's doing next is based on the iPhone OS -- and we've also heard that updated builds of the iPhone OS are under strict lock and key because they contain many references to The Tablet. We also think it's obvious we'll see iPhone OS 4.0 at some point in the next few months -- if not in the next two weeks at the stlll-unannounced tablet launch, then in two months at the now-traditional March iPhone SDK event.

So yeah, things are starting to heat up, and this latest batch of rumors seems ripe for some hysterical misinterpretation. We would say we can't wait... but we can.