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Apple may build video cams into future Macs

A recently published Apple patent application reveals that the company last year toyed with the idea of integrating a tiny video camera into the latch of a future laptop design, presumably with intentions of leveraging its iChat audio-video conferencing software.

The filing, made March 12, 2004, describes a design for a laptop computer that includes a base and a lid that pivots relative to the base. "The portable computer further includes a latch including a data capture device such as a camera that is configured to secure the lid to the base," the filing reads.

According to the filing, the invention includes a positioning device for controlling the rotation of the latch (and hence the camera) about an axis. The camera also includes a charge coupled device (CCD) image sensor or a complimentary oxide semiconductor (CMOS) image sensor.

While it's unlikely that Apple will release a PowerBook with a built-in camera in the immediate future, reliable sources have recently reported sightings of a PowerPC-based iMac prototype that is said to sport similar functionality.

The sources describe the iMac G5 prototype as being marginally thinner than the current model and including a scaled down version of Apple's iSight video camera that is built into the computer's display bezel. The iMac design, which could see the light of day in coming months, is also said to sport a memory card reader and Bluetooth remote control capabilities.

Apple has so far sold iSight video cams separately for its computers, coining them the "eyes and ears" of its iChat AV software that allows users to video-conference with up to three people simultaneously (or audioconference with up to ten). The latest version of the software, iChat AV 3.0, is one of the most touted features of Apple's new Mac OS X "Tiger" operating system.

Although much of the hoopla lately has surrounded Apple's music products, the potential and quality of its iChat video-conferencing solutions have not go unnoticed. As recently as last month, CNN announced that it had begun experimenting with iChat AV to conduct face-to-face interviews on the show "Situation Room", which is hosted by Wolf Blitzer.

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"What really is important about this is by using cheap Internet technology, they will be able to reach people all over the world on very short notice," said Joi Ito, one of the first interviewees to appear on the CNN show. "I think that there are a lot of interesting possibilities and I hope they experiment with the format and break some new ground."

Apple itself has flirted with broadening the possibilities of iChat video-conferencing in recent years. Back in 2003, the company began beta testing a service referred to as 'AppleCare Video.' It was designed to allow iMac customers with a video cam and iChat AV to video-conference one-on-one with an Apple customer support representative. The concept bled with promise of redefining customer support for the average personal computer user, but for reason's unknown to AppleInsider the service never got off the ground.