An 80-page patent application picked up on by Appleinsider reveals how Apple is working on the development of an advanced touch-surface user interface system that could eventually do away with the traditional keyboard and mouse combo.

According to the patent, the device is envisaged as an ergonomic, keyless board that the user is able to comfortably rest both hands on. Apple has placed a lot of emphasis on user comfort and the avoidance of any overly arduous or repetitive actions that could lead to strains or RSI. In keeping with all Apple products, it’s designed, above all, to be user friendly.

Handwriting detection

From the main position of two hands resting on the surface, users will be able to control basic computer functions like text input, scrolling and pointing with a range of simple hand gestures and movements. The patent claims that the user should be able to switch seamlessly between different input methods.

There’s also talk of an advanced “pen grip detection module” to facilitate handwriting detection. If our reading of things is correct then the surface would be able to sense the minute movements from the inner fingers of the writing hand and interpret them as characters.

Furthermore, the sensor network underpinning the device would be able to see things in three-dimensions, enabling it to detect tilt and roll and how much pressure is being applied. This would aid handwriting recognition immensely, and could also have some interesting applications for the manipulation of three-dimensional environments.

Fingerworks' touch-screen tech

Much of what is contained in the patent is attributed to Wayne Westerman of Fingerworks – a company specialising in touch-screen technology that was acquired by Apple in 2005.

Initially brought on board to help implement the iPhone’s UI, Fingerworks was also behind a number of the multi-touch trackpad innovations revealed in a similar Apple patent application last week.