Apple's Craziest, Most Futuristic Patents Show How Insanely Ambitious Its Thinking Is

Apple has long been known for thinking outside of the box.

Luckily it’s often possible to get a hint of what Apple has in the works, just by looking at its many patent applications.

It’s important to note that Apple files for many more patents than it will actually use, employing a protective strategy that quickly annoys those tired of legal patent battles in the tech industry.

It’s a time-consuming job to monitor the slew of patents that Apple files for every week, but thankfully the team over at Patently Apple offer a categorized collection of the tech giant’s patents — complete with analysis.

We’ve gone ahead and collected the craziest patents for you to peruse, just don’t base your stock purchases on them.

Virtual keyboard: This 2012 patent application details a virtual keyboard for iMacs and MacBooks. Using a flat surface and some sort of camera integrated into the iMac/MacBook, Apple would allow users to type on a desk, while seeing a real-time image of their exact finger placements on-screen. Fully customisable keys could allow users to have different configurations for different tasks.

3D iPhone user interface: Another patent application from 2012, Apple's 3D user interface would use proximity sensors to always display the correct depth and perspective, regardless of the device's orientation. The patent also details hovering gestures, meaning that future iPhones could allow users to make selections without ever touching the screen.

A magnetic laptop/tablet hybrid: Apple just this year applied for a hybrid laptop/tablet device, a bit similar to the Asus Transformer Prime or Microsoft Surface tablet. What's interesting is that the patent details the possible use of an electromagnet to help snap the screen into place, along with the ability to wirelessly transfer power from the base to the tablet.

Haptic feedback device: Everyone is talking about the possibility of the next iPhone nixing the physical home button for a fingerprint sensor or touch-based version, but that could be just the beginning. This patent application details Apple's interest in haptic or tactile feedback, which can enable users to feel like they are pressing a physical button, when they're actually not. Specifically, Apple mentions that it wants the 'user to feel as though the keys had been depressed.'

Smart bike: Apple was already thinking of a smart bike back in 2010, when it filed this patent application. Utilising both a user's iPhone or iPod as well as sensors in the bike itself, Apple would allow for users to get feedback on their 'speed, distance, time, altitude, elevation, incline, decline, heart rate, power, derailleur setting, cadence, wind speed, path completed, expected future path, heart rate, power, and pace.' Added functionality when riding with a group is outlined too.

Smart touch bezel: Always pushing the boundaries of touch sensors, this patent application outlines Apple's desire to move the touch component beyond just the screen. Imagine having a super smart, predictive bezel that ignores unintentional touch, but enables applications to receive input beyond the screen. Individual patches of touch-sensitive material could also be turned on or off.

Shake to print: Instead of going through a menu system, Apple would like to allow you to open up your print options by simply shaking the device. New print criteria also highlight the ability to easily print a combination of documents, photos, and web pages, all from one menu.

3D avatars and emoticons: In a possible move to make its iMessage system more personal, Apple's 2011 patent shows a system that uses tiny 3D avatars capable of showing a range of emotions. Don't let the low quality avatars fool you, the patent brings up the possibility of incredibly realistic facial features, possibly mapped using a PhotoBooth-type application. Certain keywords or phrases could trigger the display of a certain emotion.

A controllable, transparent display: This crazy patent outlines a display technology capable of concealing a camera, strobe, or even finger print sensor beneath the display. When needed, the display would turn transparent, making the camera or fingerprint sensor visible and accessible. This could potentially allow for an iPhone face consisting entirely of a screen.

Wearable computing: While everyone is focusing on the rumoured iWatch, Apple has quietly been building on a patent it was granted back in 2009, which detailed a revolutionary approach to how people could keep track of fitness, watch sports, train, and generally interact with their (Apple) TV. This figure shows how Apple's sensor strip could give impact feedback to those sparring. The strip would be thin enough to fit beneath a boxing glove, and versatile enough to be useful beyond sports.

You've seen Apple has an eye for patents, but what about Apple's attention to detail?

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