The patent shows a fold-out touch panel which leaves the top screen free to display data without being occluded.
Gadget aficionados know that there are plenty of things keeping Apple's iPhone from becoming as ubiquitous in the mobile phone marketplace as the iPod did in the portable music biz – but is it something a flip-phone would cure?
Apple is already thinking ahead to its next assault on the world of mobile handsets, and appears to be opting for a strange two-sided design this time around. In a patent application featuring Apple's traditional “draw a box and make 'em guess
” 'diagrams' the company has revealed a rather interesting clamshell form factor.
Rather than having mechanical buttons on the bottom half of the shell like a normal flip-phone, or even having two display screens like a Nintendo DS, the patent talks about a double-sided touchpad interface which lives in the lower half. When folded over the display screen, the effect is of a half-size phone with touch-sensitive display – an iPhone Nano, if you will.
When you flip the phone open, you get a multi-touch active trackpad on the base while the top screen takes care of showing what's happening. Whether that's any more intuitive than just pressing on the particular menu item that you want remains to be seen.
The flip-out touchpad is double-sided, too: although only one side is active when it's folded in half, once it's flipped out users would be able to touch both the front and the back sides to make various things happen – scrolling around music folders, for example.
It's certainly a novel design, but smartphone users are used to seeing what they're pressing on and vice-versa, so we're not totally convinced that having the touch-sensitive panel separated from the display screen is exactly a step forward. That said, we could be persuaded - especially if Apple comes up with something stunningly three-dimensional for the double-sided nature of the touchpad.
If you want to check out more images from the patent application, alongside rumours that the technology might be adapted for MacBook use, check out UnwiredView
Is a flip-phone form factor going to convince you to get an iPhone, or do you just wish I'd stop wittering on about the damn thing already? Share your thoughts over in the forums