Apple files patent for apparent iPhone nano

While other phone makers rush to catch up with Apple’s iPhone, the Cupertino-based gadget maker appears to be leaping ahead with a new phone roughly the size of the company’s current iPod nano — 3.6 inches tall, 2.5 inches wide, and one-quarter inch thick.

The new phone’s gimmick is that it has a two-sided interface — a screen on the front, and a “force-sensitive touch-surface” on the back that replicates the iPod’s clickwheel, but also tracks the user’s fingertip and displays it on the front-side display as a cursor. Users will operate the click wheel with one finger behind the phone while looking at the display side.

29-patent-6MacNN writer Jack Purcher, who was alerted to the patent filing and blogged a half dozen of its illustrations, summarizes the interface as “confusing.” Without a demo video, it’s hard to follow the text description of how the device’s front and back sides work.

US Patent Office documents, Purcher says, show that FingerWorks founder John G. Elias was the original owner of the patent, but ownership has been transferred to Apple. Elias sold FingerWorks’ assets to Apple in 2005 and is now an Apple employee.

29-patent-2Will this nano-Phone ship, and when? Our best guess is that Apple will unveil the device at CES in January, or at a separate event around that time to upstage other phone makers’ announcements. The phone would become available in the middle of 2010. Price, subsidized by a mobile carrier? It’s tempting to say “Free,” but we’ll go with $49 because Apple likes to position its products as cost-effective premium gadgets, rather than giveaways.

[Images from US Patent Office via MacNN]