Apple iPhone Integration and a Media Device? (Patents)
A search of the European Patent Office reveals a patent application from Apple entitled "Database programs for handheld devices" that was published in Feb 2006.
As advertised, the patent describes techniques for providing access to databases from handheld devices. The application, however, incidentally points out that "the remote handheld device can, for example, be a wireless phone which uses a telecom server to communicate with the database program".
Apple describes limitations in current implementations in that "the user may use a remote wireless phone to find a phone number stored in a database, but there is no convenient way for the user to place a call to that phone number." The patent application describes methods for accessing remote databases and hyperlinking relevant data (urls, phone numbers etc...) to perform tasks conveniently -- such as dialing.
The application shows images of a cell phone interface demonstrating the interactions.
While not mentioned specifically in the patent application, Apple could presumably use this method to offer live-synced Address Book functionality between a user's cell phone and their .Mac account. Apple already offers Address Book syncing between Mac OS X Tiger and .Mac.
While Apple has previously said that they did not feel they can add much value to current cell phones, it appears Apple could offer the same tight device-computer-operating system integration that has been so successful for the iPod.
Several analysts expect an Apple branded phone to appear in the next 12 months.
Meanwhile, another Apple patent application published on March 7, 2006 is entitled "Media device" and appears to date back to 2004. The description simply states "We claim the ornamental design for a media device, substantially as shown and described." This may simply represent a design for the recently released iPod nano or 5G iPod, but no images are associated with the online patent application. [Update: the images from the U.S. counterpart to this patent are of the 4G iPod]