One of the biggest problems with applying touch screens to ordinary computers is that traditionally, your hands are in one corner (on the keyboard and mouse / trackpad) and your eyes in another (on the screen). Keeping your eyes on the keyboard tires your neck, keeping your hands on the screen tires your arms, not to mention that an operating system designed for the dual keyboard / mouse does not work for direct interaction with your fingers, and vice versa.
A patent registered by Apple in Europe earlier this year is found today by Patently Apple it seems to solve all this problem with the simple use of two joints: with a gesture, your iMac becomes a slanted surface accessible to the touch, and Mac OS X completely changes its look to be more friendly to your fingers. Ingenious? Yes, it's almost magical!
If positioned in the traditional way, the iMac in the patent would work the way we all know and love it: using a keyboard and mouse, it would display an interface optimized for a cursor (a "high resolution mode", in the sense that elements are small). When the user repositioned the computer, so that its screen is more accessible to the hands, the system as a whole would change to facilitate interactions via touch. The mouse cursor and the menu bar would leave the scene, while elements like icons could grow and become more prominent (in a “low resolution mode”, that is, less elements using more screen space).
To perceive the change in orientation, the invention proposes the use of several sensors, alone or together. An accelerometer in the computer's body could detect the direction of the gravitational force, proprioceptors in the base joint could monitor its angle, or even touch-sensitive elements arranged on the sides of the screen could be used to know when the user manipulates the computer with the intention of change his conformation.
A few days ago we commented on a set of patents that made a brief and dubious reference to MacBooks with touch screens, but this invention describes a laptop computer just like the old “convertible PCs”. Although the system proposed here for a desktop is ingenious and promising, I do not mean the same as this proposal for a notebook: while the screen of an iMac would offer a true light table to work in a wide and comfortable way (goodbye, Cintiq?), a "convertible MacBook" would just be a bad tablet (big, heavy, fragile at the hinge), unless it was smaller and lighter than an Air.
Who knows, we may see this iMac touch coming out soon, as a rumor indicated, or maybe Apple will wait for Mac OS X 10.7 (11?) To make a change of this magnitude. What do you think?