Since then, Apple’s policy on intellectual property has been exactly that: Patent everything, even if it doesn’t make it to a final product.
Apple is constantly filing patents — and defending them, too — but since many of Apple’s patented ideas don’t see the light of day, we thought it’d be fun to take a look at some of the company’s unique innovations — particularly the ones we’d like to see in a future product or two.
Big shout-out to PatentlyApple and the U.S. Patent And Trademark Office for letting us use the patent images in this story.
Imagine you could use your device without looking at it. That's the idea behind Apple's advanced tactile display technology, which the company patented back in May 2012.
Using an OLED screen and several sensors and actuators working simultaneously, Apple's sophisticated multi-tiered system relies on several layers of elastic screens layered on top of each other that can create 3D buttons or objects, or give images like topographical maps a textural feel. This system can also react to one's physical touch and distinguish between light and heavy contact with the screen's surface.
People drop their phones all the time -- now if only Apple followed through on this patent.
Granted in November 2011, Apple's patent for crack-resistant glass involves chemically treating the same alumino silicate glass solution used in the iPhone 4 and 4S with potassium and sodium ions, which helps the glass achieve greater compression thresholds on its surface and edges, thus making it less susceptible to cracking.
The patent also includes a nifty feature that calls for a shock mount placed between the glass and the device's metal housing, which instantly inflates and sucks in the cover glass if the device's internal accelerometer senses it's falling, thus protecting it from damage.
Though Apple is currently expanding its Touch ID technology to allow for easy purchases on your iPhone 5S (and beyond), Apple actually designed a complete digital system that allows users to control their financial accounts and transactions directly on their iPhones.
The patent for the 'iWallet,' which was granted to Apple back in March 2012, can also let users easily see their entire credit card profiles and view statements and messages from their banks. And if a child owns an iPhone, Apple created parental controls so they can set spending limits on their children and even request authorization from the parent via their own device.
Years before Amazon unveiled its Firefly technology, Apple designed a patent for an application called 'Products+,' which could scan merchandise in any store to learn more information about the product itself. There was also a gamification aspect where scanning certain objects could result in users winning free rewards like iTunes music or merchandise.
Though Apple's patent centered around the use of near-field communication (NFC), it seems unlikely Apple would implement this patent in its current form, since none of its current devices use NFC. Apple has been able to create workarounds to the near-field technology with WiFi and iBeacons, which are battery-friendly Bluetooth connections that can promptly display messages on one's mobile device. In other words, there's a chance we could still see this technology come to fruition, even if it doesn't actually use the key technology it was originally based on.
Amazon may have beaten Apple to the first '3-D' smartphone, but a future Apple device could also allow users to snap three-dimensional images, thanks to a camera patent granted in late March 2012.
There are plenty of 3-D photo and video cameras that can gather three-dimensional information from objects they're looking at, but those devices are generally incapable of acquiring detailed enough information in relation to the shapes, surfaces and depth of the objects to make them truly feel 3-D. Apple's solution involves multiple sensors and cameras: One sensor would capture a polarising image, while two other sensors would capture two different non-polarising images, and Apple's system would combine the images into a composite.
The concept of holograms has been popular ever since Princess Leia recorded a 3-D distress signal with her droid, R2-D2. But Apple wants to one-up holograms you can simply see -- by making them interactive.
In a patent filed in October 2012 but published this April, Apple created a system that allows you to interact with projected images that appear to hang in mid-air, even letting you control and manipulate those virtual objects with the swipes and gestures iOS users are used to, such as pinching to zoom in and see details. This hologram display system may be too complicated for small mobile devices, but perhaps we'll see it if Apple decides to invade the home with some new hardware, which is reportedly in the works, according to 9to5Mac's Mark Gurman.
Apple has been working on a unique alloy called 'liquidmetal' since 2010, and in time, we could eventually see a phone that's totally resistant to scratches and corrosion.
According to one patent released in May, Apple is working on a way for 'integrally trapping a glass insert in a metal bezel,' which would effectively make an extremely strong iPhone, at least structurally-speaking. The patent says Apple would also use a new kind of display glass, which makes sense considering Apple has been hard at work producing sapphire displays from its new plant in Arizona.
Apple may never totally catch up to Google when it comes to mapping the physical world over a digital interface, but one patent published in December 2013 shows how Apple could introduce some different ideas to its own Maps application.
According to Apple Insider, Apple's 'interactive map' solution would introduce a customisable dynamic layering system that can only show you information as it's needed, thus keeping the rest of the map free from clutter you're not interested in. For example, if you touch two points on a map, Apple Maps can create various routes and show you all of the major places of interest along that route. The same goes if you touch a major street or highway, you'll see restaurants and other businesses you might find along that route.
Apple has computers, phones, tablets, and possibly soon a watch. But what about a bike? The company filed a patent application back in 2010 that showed how an intelligent bicycle could communicate with one's mobile device -- an iPhone or iPod -- to get feedback about one's 'speed, distance, time, altitude, elevation, incline, decline, heart rate, power,' and more.
Apple has enough sensors in its devices to make this kind of 'smart bike' a reality, but it wouldn't even need a bike: The iPhone already includes an accelerometer, an ambient light sensor, a proximity sensor, a magnetometer, a gyroscope, and soon, likely a barometer, which would help with measuring things like temperature, air pressure and elevation.
Apple will reportedly release its smartwatch entrant later this year, but this particular patent published last February is what captured most people's imaginations. With a continuous, flexible display that conforms to one's wrist, Apple compared its device to a 'slap bracelet,' which consists of 'layered flexible steel bands sealed within a fabric cover.' The patent also describes solar panels -- known as 'ambient light collectors' -- on the watch to boost the device's battery life, as well as an ability to connect to and communicate with mobile devices, even at a basic level.
We have no idea if the original designs from this patent filing will end up in the final product, but we will likely know in October.