Could one of Apple's Next Great Things be a Desk-Free Computer? I'd like to think not – but Apple seems to think that it could be and I'm not about to challenge their thinking on this one. They've been right about the iPod, the iPhone and over time – I think most of us know that their iPad is headed for the history books as well. With the iPad not even a week old yet – it was nothing short of amazing to read Apple's visionary statement that they "may provide an entirely new category of computer system as compared to desktops and laptops." In fact, Apple went even further by stating that "such an approach may allow the computer system to be a desk-free computer." There's no doubt that this has a certain Apple flair to it that could eventually lead us back to Revolutionary Road. Yet before we get there, I fully expect this to be controversial for some time to come.
Apple Introduces us to an Entirely New Category of Computer System
Computer systems and methods disclosed in Apple's patent, according to Apple, may provide an entirely new category of computer systems as compared to desktops and laptops. Various embodiments contemplate using an integrated projector output as a primary visual output, as opposed to the conventional display screens involved with desktop and laptop computers. Such an approach may allow the computer system to be a "desk-free computer," by allowing the computer system to be placed wherever desired, on a desk or table, but also on a shelf, on a floor, or even suspended from a wall or ceiling.
The integrated projector output may provide flexibility in locating the computer system, by allowing any suitable surface to perform as a display screen. The integrated projector may also provide flexibility in the location, relative to the computer system and/or the user, and/or in the size of the projected image. Display screens for both laptops and desktops are fixed in size, and have limited flexibility in location relative to the computer, either by wired connection and/or other physical constraint.
By providing wireless interfaces for input devices, such as keyboard and mouse, networking, and the like, the integrated projector output may eliminate any need for wires connecting the computer system to peripherals. Thus, in some embodiments, only a power cord may be provided to the computer system.
In other embodiments, the computer system may be powered wirelessly, for example, by an inductive charge system, an energy storage system, and/or one or more batteries.
Apple's patent states that "As will be further understood … computer systems and methods disclosed herein may also provide advancement over 'smart projectors' that include image processing and/or correction capabilities."
Apple's patent FIG. 1 is a perspective view of an example of a computer system including an integrated projector output. The computer system 100 may include an integrated projector output 110 as a primary visual display.In some embodiments, the projector output may be the only display for the computer system. However, it may be desirable in some embodiments to have an interface for connecting the computer system with a monitor or other display device as a secondary or alternative display.
It should be understood that the integrated projector output allows for an externally wire-free computer system to be implemented. As such, the interface for connecting the computer system to a display device may be a wireless interface to maintain the wire-free feature of the computer system.
Although two speakers 118 are illustrated in FIG. 2 above, it should be understood that one or more than two speakers may be employed as well. As illustrated in patent FIG. 3, the computer system may also include various interfaces for interacting with peripheral devices, networking, and/or data input/output.
For example, the computer system may include a wireless interface 120, which may be configured to provide wireless communication between the computer system and one or more peripheral devices, such as a keyboard 180 or a mouse 190, as illustrated in FIG. 5 below.
The wireless interface may employ radio frequency (RF), infrared (IR) or any other suitable mode of wireless communication. The computer system may include a wireless network interface 122, such as a modem or other suitable device or a slot configured to receive such a device. Further, the computer system may include a USB port 124 to allow the computer system 100 to share data with other devices, such as printers, cameras, video cameras, music players, and the like.
The Computing System, Projector & Inductive Charge Receiver
As illustrated in Apple's patent FIG. 4 below, an alternative configuration of the computer system may provide the integrated projector output and/or the image sensor 112 or other sensor(s) on a top, toward the rear of the computer system, rather than on the front as illustrated in FIG. 1.
The computing system may be positioned as appropriate or desired to project an image onto a desired surface for viewing. For example, as illustrated in FIG. 5, the computer system may be positioned to project an image onto a wall (200) by placing the computer system on a shelf (202) with the projector output facing the wall.
As discussed above, the computer system may be configured to wirelessly communicate with peripheral devices, such as the keyboard 180 and the mouse 190. In combination, the computer system, the keyboard and/or the mouse may define a wire-free computing environment 10. Although the keyboard and the mouse are shown on a desk or table, it should be understood that the desk or table may not be needed to employ the computing environment 10. For example, a user may sit in a chair with the keyboard in his lap and the mouse on the armrest of the chair, a table next to the chair, or any substantially flat surface.
Although wireless peripheral devices are illustrated in FIG. 5 as physical devices, it should be understood that any suitable wireless technology may be employed. For example, the keyboard 180 may be implemented as a virtual or projected keyboard where the user's fingers are detected for determining input. Thus, embodiments of the computer systems described herein may involve any suitable wireless technologies that enable interaction with a computer.
As illustrated in patent FIG. 7, the computer system may include an inductive charge receiver 142 and an internal energy storage unit 144 as the internal inductive power supply 140. The inductive charge receiver may be configured to generate an induced current in response to a current flowing in an inductive charge element or pad 150, connected to a power source such as a wall outlet.
Lastly - Apple states that the computer system may be configured to perform at or near real time per-pixel and per-color, for example, red, green and blue (RGB), image processing and image correction. In fact, Apple's patent claim #10 is a little bolder by stating "The computer system of claim 1, wherein at least one of the central processing unit and the graphics processing unit is configured to perform image processing in real time." Hmm, that could be implying that Apple may be thinking of using this advanced projector system for video conferencing as well?
Apple credits Aleksandar Pance, Reese Cutler, Aaron Leiba, David Falkenburg, Jason Chen, Alex Crumlin and Kenneth McAlpine as the inventors of patent application 20100079468 which was originally filed in Q3 2008.
Reports covering Apple's related projector centric patents over the last year: Apple Illustrates Pico Projector Coming to MacBooks, Apple Files a Mysterious Projector Patent and Future iPhones Will Gain Pico Projector, Videoconferencing & Advanced Content Sharing.
In 1996 when I began reporting on the coming iPhone and various Multi-touch patents, the naysayers came out of the woodwork screaming that Apple would never get into tablets because of the failed Newton, that they would never have a clue how to compete with Motorola's RAZR on cell phones and didn't have the brains to compete with Sony for MP3 players – and so on and so forth.
I've heard it all over the years. The naysayer's myopic vision never ceases to amaze me because they supposedly profess that Apple is this great innovator and yet don't have the stones to back up their rhetoric when the chips are down.
When will they ever learn to never limit the Crazy Ones in Cupertino? Ha!
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Related Material: Embedded Entertainment with Smart Projectors