Apple was granted 563 patents in 2010, some of which will show up in future products and might well change the consumer technology landscape just like the iPod, iPhone, App Store and now the iPad have.
Apple patent expert Jack Purcher of Patently Apple has been monitoring the company's patents since 2006. Mashable asked him why he thought Apple is such an innovative company.
"Many have asked me why I think that Apple is more innovative than others. I usually answer that question the same way each time," says Purcher. "I'm not sure that they are on a technical level. The difference is that Apple has an inspired leader and CEO who, for decades, has had a real vision of where technology should go."
Mashable have taken a look at some of Apple's recent patent applications to see what exciting developments might be in store for the future - as any one of these patents could be the next step in Steve Jobs's master plan or vision.
As Purcher puts it: "Jobs's vision for the digital lifestyle a decade ago is still on a roll. It's innovation at its finest. But it began with a vision - and that's the difference."
Apple's smart bike concept is like the Nike+ running system, but for those on two wheels. In addition to seeing pertinent data from you (heart rate, etc.) and the bike (speed, distance, etc.) on your iPod or iPhone, the system could be used as a tool for group communication when biking with others.
2. Wand Remote
Is gesture control the next big thing to follow touch? It seems Apple might think so with this patent for the Apple TV that sees the home entertainment gadget shipped with a Wiimote-like motion controller. Besides managing the on-screen cursor via movement, the "remote wand" could be used to browse through and control media.
3. Solar-powered iPhone
Apple has come up with a way - in theory anyway - of adding solar tech to its portable devices without spoiling the all-important aesthetics. By integrating the photocells into the touchscreen, future iPods, iPads and iPhones could soak up the power of the sun via their displays, making for greener gadgetry.
4. Touchscreen iMac
This clever concept gives the desktop PC iPad-esque functionality. While the monitor is upright, it's a common iMac running Apple's full operating system controlled with a mouse, but flip it horizontally and it switches to the iOS and the touch controls take over.
Chances are your iPhone has already replaced your compact camera, MP3 player and handheld gaming console, but Apple could take the convergence a step further and replace your keys. The Cupertino company has patented the idea that your iPhone could unlock your car and home with a proximity-based PIN code system.
This is one patent we could definitely see coming to market. Apple has designed a Bluetooth headset with standalone media playback functionality. This could well be a future version of the iPod Shuffle - small, wearable and, thanks to the Bluetooth features, multi-tasking.
7. Shareable Apps
How would you like to be able to beam your latest App Store download to a buddy? Apple has come up with the idea of an "application seed" system whereby developers could choose to make their apps shareable via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. It's a fantastic concept for content providers who are looking to spread the word as far and wide as possible. Additionally, trial version options could be a great word-of-mouth money maker.
8. Video Game Comic Books
If you want to relive that last level of Mass Effect that you aced, Apple might offer a way to do so in the future. This unusual patent allows you to describe your progress through a video game, record it, and then turn it into a book or e-book in comic style.
9. Magnetic Lenses
iPhotography is hot, and its potential is limited only by hardware restrictions. Although Apple has steadily improved the iPhone's camera, it's still just a point-and-shooter. This patent describes a way of enhancing a portable device's camera functionality with a magnetic zoom or macro lens attachments.
10. MacBooks with built-in projectors
This exciting idea could see future Apple laptops coming with built-in projectors. Just think how handy it would be to be able to share what's on your laptop screen - whether that's a movie or a presentation - with a group of others at the click of a mouse.
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