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Apple awarded patent for multi-touch gestures on electronic documents


Today Patently Apple reports Apple has been granted another major multi-touch patent relating to e-docs.

Remember the first time you saw an iPhone television ad, showing the iPhone in action? The touch gestures seemed effortless, magical, like nothing you'd ever seen. Skeptics insisted the TV ads couldn't be real, prompting comparison videos after the iPhone's release.

Four years later, multi-touch is taken for granted. It's become "obvious" to other vendors how handhelds should work, so multi-touch is seemingly used on every new device you'll see at CES this week.

Apple thinks this competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal theirs, and it keeps stockpiling the ammunition it needs to defend its innovations. In December, Apple received a patent for one of the primary elements of multi-touch, which we expected would help in its patent suit against HTC.

Patently Apple reports today's patent was filed only weeks after the iPhone release, and covers how multi-touch helps users interact with "structured electronic documents," such as web pages.

Web pages are made up of blocks of text, images or video. Apple's iOS recognizes the kind of media these blocks are, and Apple's multi-touch acts on them differently. For example, when reading the New York Times, if you double-tap a block of text, iOS zooms to column width, but if you double tap a video, it begins playing. If you pinch to expand a block of text, iOS zooms in, while if you pinch to expand a video, it goes full screen.

The multi-touch flowcharts in this patent cover those actions and more, reading like a script of Apple's television ads putting the iPhone through its paces.

The patent covers using an interface through finger contacts and gestures on a touch-sensitive display. Apple's examples cover telephoning, video conferencing, sending email, instant messaging, blogging, taking photos, recording video, web browsing, music playback, and video playback -- pretty much anything you'd want to do on a hand-held device.

The patent's detailed claims cover resizing and zooming while viewing all these kinds of documents in portrait or landscape mode, along with tapping, swiping, and other gestures.

While patents for software are controversial, gestures are a mechanical interaction with a device, making the mechanics of handling them patentable. It clearly wasn't obvious to other manufacturers before Apple how to get these working on a mass market consumer device.

To use another Steve Jobs expression, HTC and Motorola could be in for a big bag of hurt.

[via Patently Apple]

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