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Apple exploring desktop iMac with shape-sensing touch display

Lending support to a recent rumor about a touchscreen iMac, a new patent application from Apple revealed this week shows an all-in-one desktop with a touch-sensitive display.

Entitled "Shape Detecting Input Device," the invention, credited to Peter Kennedy, was a continuation of a 2004 application re-filed on Oct. 30, 2009. The application describes a variety of situations where a touchscreen would be preferable to a mouse and keyboard, including common uses seen today, such as ATM machines, point of sale machines in stores, airline ticket e-terminals, library terminals and more.

The application describes a system that would allow users to hold objects onto a touchscreen to enable access, such as for security purposes. By holding an object on the screen, such as a ring or a key, the system would allow users to access certain data within the system.

Such a method, the application states, could allow "improved techniques to allow different authorization levels" on computers, such as allowing a network administrator to make changes.

"This is particular advantageous in environments where the computer system is shared by multiple users, such as in education environments," the application reads. "Each user could have their own personal signet. The user simply has to present his/her ring to the touch screen in order to place the computer system in his/her preferred configuration."

The shape-related commands, called "signets," could even become more complex, allowing users to present a combination of objects in sequence, much like a combination lock.

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The 2004-era application makes no mention of multi-touch technology capable of sensing multiple fingertips — the technology pioneered by Apple with the iPhone and later brought to the company's notebooks via a multi-touch trackpad.

In January, a Chinese newspaper alleged that Apple would ship a touchscreen iMac with a 22-inch screen sometime in 2010. The report alleged the hardware would be in addition to the existing 21.5-inch and 27-inch desktops, which do not have touchscreen panels.

The report said Taiwan-based Sintek Photronic was said to supply the screen, while Quanta would handle the production of the hardware. Apple refreshed its iMac desktop in late 2009 with new models that sport an LED-backlit screen.