At the very least, it looks like Apple is working on significant new music software features, as you might expect. But depending on how you read their patents, new music hardware — even touchscreen hardware — could be in store.

Apple is a big company with a lot of intellectual property, so teasing out patents can be difficult. But, as others have observed before, looking for Dr. Gerhard Lengeling, the Emagic founder who came to Apple along with his company, reveals interesting results:

20060278058: Frameless musical keyboard
20060272485: Evaluating and correcting rhythm in audio data
20060022956: Touch-sensitive electronic apparatus for media applications, and methods therefor
20050288805: Providing synchronized audio to multiple devices
20050204906: Method and apparatus for simulating a mechanical keyboard action in an electronic keyboard
20050204904: Method and apparatus for evaluating and correcting rhythm in audio data
20050145099: Method and apparatus for enabling advanced manipulation of audio
20040125122: Method of manipulating an audio and/or video signal in a graphical user interface (GUI) and a computer readable medium containing a program code for said manipulation
20040125083: Method of controlling movement of a cursor on a screen and a computer readable medium containing such a method as a program code

Lengeling Query on the US Patent and Trademark Office

Reader Doug Joyce, who sent in the link, observes:

There seems to be ample evidence of a touch screen interface for the next Apple offering. There are a few other interesting tidbits in the patent applications as well if you’re into to reading this stuff.

Some of this is old news: synchronized audio to multiple devices was rolled right into the operating system in the form of network communication and device aggregation features.

But what’s that about a “frameless music keyboard”? Or a “touch-sensitive media device”?

Let’s talk about the touch-sensitive media device first.

“An electronic apparatus, such as an electronic mixing apparatus and an electronic keyboard apparatus, and associated methods are disclosed. The electronic mixing apparatus or the electronic keyboard apparatus is provided on a touch screen that provides user input and display capabilities. In one embodiment, the touch screen is a multipoint touch screen so that multiple user touch inputs can be simultaneously acquired. In another embodiment, surface guides can be provided on the touch screen to assist with user input.”

See Touch-sensitive electronic apparatus for media applications, and methods therefor

Multi-touch Music, a la Lemur? It sounds a lot like the iPhone, but as I noted shortly after Macworld, this particular patent has Dr. Lengeling’s name right alongside Jonathan Ive’s, and describes elaborate audio mixers and music keyboards and sophisticated multi-touch gestures. None of these would be possible on the tiny iPhone screen.

Plug-together keys? Then we see the “frameless keyboard” patent, which is more recent — filed 2005, granted December 14, 2006. Interestingly, this patent makes reference to the fold-up patent design we broke here on CDM, a design which unfortunately, well, folded long before it went into production. This patent is not assigned to Apple; it’s assigned directly to Dr. Lengeling. The idea is to combine keyboards in segments, minus frames, for an arbitrary number of keys. Dr. Lengeling also has a patent for simulating the feel of different mechanical keyboard actions — again, not explictly mentioning Apple. Maybe Dr. Lengeling, an accomplished keyboardist, is working on his dream keyboard. (If you are, do share it with us when it’s done! And maybe we can have a Gerhard vs. Gerhard smackdown with Gerhard Behles, CEO of Ableton.)

Before you get too excited, just because a company is working on an idea and patents it doesn’t mean it’ll get into a shipping product; there are countless intervening steps. If you’ve followed Apple’s design history, you’ll know the company was working on phones and boomboxes in the late 80s that never materialized. On the other hand, Jobs hinted in his iPhone keynote that he’s aware that paperwork can tip your hand. (In the case of iPhone, it was an FCC filing, but Apple product hints have snuck out in patent applications, as well).

A New Logic? Equally interesting is that this stream of patents hints at the plot line of the post from early today: Apple has a next-generation music app, and they’ve been working on it for five years. That’s the rough time period of the various application features here. As I read the patents (always a challenge), it sounds like the “graphical” methods of displaying audio and video signals and what looks like automatic beat detection and tempo correction features are beyond what we’ve seen in existing apps. It’s possible the “graphical” audio display is just the spectrum view in Soundtrack and the tempo correction bits are related to Apple Loops (again, even experimental ideas that may not have gotten into the software), but it seems possible there’s a longer-term project here, as well.

Hmmm … rumors about a sub-notebook, tablet features, multi-touch, the shipment of the iPhone, rumors about touch-sensitive music applications, patents for touch-sensitive music applications, rumors about an app that’s been in development for five years, five years of patents for audio software features …

The honest truth is, it could all be meaningless. In the meantime, feel free to dream. And this being CDM, feel free to continue to create your own wild inventions — they could prove to be cooler, or real-er, anyway.

For more on the “I just read a blog by an Emagic founder and there’s not going to be a Logic 8″ plotline, see:

Rumor Mill: No Logic 8; New Touch-Sensitive “Pro Tools Killer” Instead?

  • anon

    There's not enough money in this for pro studios, or they'd have kept eMagic alive. But "Everybody wants to be a DJ, everybody wants to be an MC"* and with typical Apple marketing and the typically unscrupulous audience….

    *De La

  • slabman

    I find it odd that, with all the experimental key layouts over the years, there seems little willingness to experiment with key action (leaving aside 'incidental' keyboards as on grooveboxes). Black & white keyboards had a hinged action because they were levers doing mechanical work. On a synth, they just actuate switches. Why not have a conventional key layout but use keys that travel up & down over the entire length, not just at the front? This could be acheived using the scissor spring action, as in a PC keyboard. Under the keys, there could be a switch at each end. This would allow detection of where the key was pressed and vibrato by rocking the key. (For any patent trolls, this post constitutes prior art!)

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  • http://jackit.sf.net/ Paul Davis

    slabman, are you aware of the Haaken Continuum controller? its all you describe, and a bit more.

    http://www.hakenaudio.com/Continuum/

  • http://www.jchot.com j-chot

    undoubtably, when it comes out, apple will insist that cool people only use it.

  • slabman

    Paul – yes, I know of the Haaken and it's an interesting device. What I'm thinking of is a bit different – it would have conventional black & white key layout but a new type of action (new to music keyboards, that is). Actually, it seems as though it would be reasonably easy to DIY so maybe I should put up or shut up! Perhaps the most achievable DIY implementation would be as something akin to a Buchla sequencer/kbd rather than 88 keys of musicianly goodness.

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