The Apple Tablet is coming, and if our own tipsters are anything to go by, the UI will require a “steep learning curve” and a complex vocabulary of new gestures. We won’t know for sure what to expect until Steve Jobs sends his fingers dancing across the tablet’s slate-like surface on January 27th, but until then, Patently Apple has hit the US Patent Office archives, prophesying what we can expect.
This is a complex overview, and you really need to go over to Patently Apple to get a full understanding of what the Apple tablet-oriented patents of the last few years have described. The main point seems to be morphing virtual controls that change according to the mode you are in: in other words, the Tablet will switch control schemes according to whether you are navigating, scrolling, entering data or editing. The advantage here seems obvious: the same gesture can be used in multiple modes for different things. That may seem unintuitive, but if Apple is smart grouping gestures together — or example, a counter-clockwise swirl in editing mode might undo the last previous edit, while the same swirl in browsing mode might go back a page — it could be second nature.
The other big advance the patents describe is a back shell that incorporates touch control. Given the Magic Mouse’s functionality, I think a touch capacitive case is a given for the form factor: it’s the only way the tablet could be ergonomically useful in a situation when it isn’t placed on a lap or a desk.
Go and read the whole thing. I doubt we’ll see most or even many of these technologies on display when Apple unveils the Tablet next week, but patents afford, at least, our first glimpse of some of them.