Apple Patent Application Points to 3D Multi-Touch Manipulation

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The Baltimore Sun yesterday dug up a relatively recent patent application from Apple describing the manipulation of three-dimensional images on a variety of devices, including such implementations as the iPhone or the company's as-yet-unreleased tablet. Curiously, while the patent application is credited to several Apple engineers in France, the company's name appears nowhere on the application. Documents filed alongside the application on September 28th, 2008, however, list Apple as the holder of the intellectual property based on an assignment from the inventors.

Speculation regarding 3D graphics in Apple's tablet began circulating after former Google China president Kai-Fu Lee briefly mentioned the technology in passing as part of a blog post disclosing information he claims to have received about the device.

For electronic devices that display a three-dimensional virtual space on the touch screen display, present user interfaces for navigating in the virtual space and manipulating three-dimensional objects in the virtual space are too complex and cumbersome. These problems are exacerbated on portable electronic devices because of their small screen sizes.

Accordingly, there is a need for electronic devices with touch screen displays that provide more transparent and intuitive user interfaces for navigating in three-dimensional virtual spaces and manipulating three-dimensional objects in these virtual spaces. Such interfaces increase the effectiveness, efficiency and user satisfaction with such devices.

In order to address this need, the patent application suggests a number of methods of using multiple finger gestures to move screen objects in relation to one another on a three-dimensional basis.

Apple has long held an interest in bringing three-dimensional display elements to its devices using both perspective-based implementations in two dimensions and more advanced techniques for generating lifelike three-dimensional images, with previous patent applications addressing stereoscopic displays, multidimensional desktops, and "hyper-reality" displays. This new application, however, reveals added research in multi-touch capabilities and portable devices in relation to 3D images.

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