Tablet speculation: Apple’s 2009 eye-control tech acquisition?



In nine days, Steve Jobs will walk on stage, shout “Bam!” and unveil the Apple Tablet. That much we pretty much know. But with rumors that the Tablet will require a steep learning curve, evidence is mounting that the Tablet won’t interface with us like a mere tablet PC or an iPhone, but instead set an entirely new paradigm.

One interesting bit of speculation on what kind of new interface we might expect comes way of Roger Åberg, who points out an interesting new interface technology Apple has been pursuing over the last couple of years, eye control, which could allow Tablet users to do everything from scroll, navigate, launch apps and even type through blinks, motion and long dwelling gazes.

It’s not just idle fancy. Apple actually bought eye-control technology from Swedish company Tobil in March of last year. Tobil’s technology combines software and hardware solutions to “sense” when a user is looking at a screen.

According to Tobil’s website, the tech has a lot of cool possibilities. For example, a mouse could be moved simply by looking around the screen, with clicking triggered by “dwelling,” or using a long unblinking stare.

There’s other possibilities. Tobil has demonstrated the technology’s e-reader possibilities by showing that eye movement could be used to flip and scroll pages easily. Another way the technology could be used is for simple power management: look away from the device for a period of time and the screen dims.

The big problem with Tobil’s solution from a Tablet perspective is that it requires a web cam to track eye movement. Daring Fireball’s John Gruber has said that his sources tell him there’s no camera on the Tablet, which would obviously sink eye control.

My personal guess is that eye control is still too fidgety and Philip-K-Dickish for Apple to embrace, and that Apple snapped up Tobil for possible use in their MacBook line down the road. Given the Magic Mouse, a touch-capacitive back casing still seems to me like the most plausible interface extension.

Still, we won’t know for certain until Steve Jobs walks onto stage. For all we know right now, he might prove us all comically wrong by shouting “Bam!” and then interfaces to the Tablet directly through an “easy-to-install” USB port trephined into the side of his head. Nine days will tell.