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News English News Apple looking at dual-mode touchscreen desktops and laptops
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When we spoke to a cadre of Mac OS X developers earlier this year, they universally agreed that iOS was having more influence on the direction of Mac OS X than the other way around. Cabel Sasser, co-founder and developer at Panic, especially felt that Mac OS X 10.7 could potentially be a hybrid between the two OSes. "I could see a gradual, slow merger between iOS and Mac OS X styles and approaches," he told Ars. "It doesn't make sense for them to be developing two of everything, one good, one not as good—two calendars, two address books—it's got to merge somehow."

Ars' John Siracusa, in a recent editorial for Macworld, expressed his hope that Mac OS X 10.7 could power new touchscreen-based Macs. However, he wrote, the standard WIMP interface just isn't going to cut it for touchscreen use:

Unfortunately, the Mac user interface is not designed for touch. Standard Mac OS X controls like scrollbars, buttons, and checkboxes are far too small to be comfortably manipulated with an adult-size finger. Worse, some common operations—such as hovering a cursor over an interface element without actually clicking it—can’t be done at all using touch alone. On the hardware side, poking at the vertical screen surface of, say, a future touch-sensitive iMac would quickly produce arm fatigue.

Like Sasser, Siracusa also believes that a future version of Mac OS X could switch UI paradigms depending on user needs and the configuration of a hypothetical transforming MacBook/iPad device. Such a device would be "a light, fully capable Mac laptop when you need all the power it provides, and a slightly bulky (but screamingly fast) iPad when you don't."

Apparently Apple has considered giving users exactly that. The WIPO patent application, titled "Transitioning Between Modes of Input," describes how a iMac-like computer could be tilted from a vertical to more horizontal position. When a suitable change in screen angle is detected, the UI could shift into a mode geared toward touch input. Switching the display back would trigger a switch to mouse and keyboard input.

The patent also considers laptops with similar functionality. When the display is reoriented to lay flat—essentially converting a laptop into a flat, touchscreen tablet—the OS would switch to a touch-based UI. When the display is switched back, you would again be able to use traditional keyboard and trackpad input.

Though the patent doesn't describe particularly how application software would handle the context switch, one possibility is that applications could be bundled with both a "regular" UI and a "touch" UI, with shared underlying code to handle program logic and data. The application could then present the appropriate UI depending on the configuration of the machine. Additionally, apps built specifically for iOS devices could easily run in a compatibility layer, just as iPhone and iPad apps now run on Mac OS X machines in a simulator used during development.
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3.25 Copyright (C) 2007 Alain Georgette / Copyright (C) 2006 Frantisek Hliva. All rights reserved."

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