A new patent from Apple lends weight to recent rumours that the company is looking to bring an innovative touch screen system to the iMac.

As reported over on AppleInsider, the patent - "Shape Detecting Input Device" by Apple's Peter Kennedy - details the use of a touch screen to recognise the shape of objects held against it and execute certain tasks accordingly.

The general principle is this: if the object you touch to the screen matches the shape of an object the system knows about, it will perform a predefined action. The example given in the patent is the use of a physical key - literally the sort you would use to open a door lock - being used to gain access to a restricted system. Fans of Green Lantern could even use the technology unlock their comic book collection via their power ring.

Kennedy sees the technology being used to "allow different authorisation levels," offering advantages "in environments where the computer system is shared by multiple users, such as in education environments." The patent envisions a world where "each user [has] their own personal signet [shape-recognised object]. The user simply has to present his/her ring to the touch screen in order to place the computer in his/her preferred configuration."

While the patent deals exclusively with the design and implementation of the shape detecting technology, much of the tech world is more excited by the fact that the diagrams in the application indicate an iMac - lending weight to rumours reported on DigiTimes that the company is looking to add a new 22" iMac with touch screen before the end of the year. While it's not beyond the realms of possibility, the iMac used in the patent is an old model - thus suggesting that it exists purely as an indication of how the technology could be used, not how it will be used. With Apple - like many companies - often speculatively applying for patents for technologies that they never implement commercially, there's no guarantee that your next system will use a signet-based access system at all.

Do you think that shape recognition is the way forward, or should companies work more on webcam-based facial recognition if they want to provide an easy way to customise an OS for multiple users? Share your thoughts over in the forums.

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