The US Patent and Trademark Office has published a patent application revealing that Apple is investigating additional functionality for its Smart Cover, including an embedded display, solar panels and a built-in keyboard.
Patently Apple reports that the patent application, which was filed by Apple in August 2011 and published on Thursday, could be used as a master patent that could be used to create a variety of different Smart Covers for the iPad. Apple focuses on adding functionality to tablets through the use of the Smart Cover, while maintaining portability of the devices.
"Recent advances in portable computing include the introduction of hand held electronic devices and computing platforms known generically as tablet devices," reads Apple's patent background as found on the application document. "These devices can be used for any number of task including word processing, social media networking, video conferencing, and gaming. Although this type of device allows an extensive variety of tasks to be performed, the overall functionality of this device type still has room for improvement."
"For example, increasing the display area could lead to a significant expansion in functionality," writes Apple. "Unfortunately, since displays already dominate a majority of one side of tablet devices, device manufacturers generally choose between making the display and therefore the device itself larger, thereby reducing the portability or making the device and display smaller with the result of a less functional device."
So, Apple proposes that a future Smart Cover could have at least a portion of the flexible flap covered by a display, which could present visual information. The Smart Cover would have a connecting portion to provide communication between the iPad and the case. This display could also implement touch screen technology.
A battery could be incorporated into the body of the accessory, says Apple, enabling an interactive role with the tablet. Solar panels that are spread across the surface of the accessory could extend the battery life.
Using an AMOLED display rather than LCD technology in the cover's display would conserve battery power, and having orientation sensors could provide useful features. It could be used to display a social media status, a certain number of recently typed words, or the tablet user's name, which would be useful in meetings or in a classroom, says Apple.
Also mentioned in the patent application is the incorporation of a keyboard in the Smart Cover. Microsoft's recently announced Surface already has a tablet cover with a built-in keyboard, so it's interesting to see that Apple is also looking into in such accessories.
If that's not enough, Apple has also added the idea that the Smart Cover could work with a Smart Pen as a replacement for a touch pad, it could have a display on the outside surface, which could show reminders, and could be used with the Smart Pen to jot down handwritten notes.
For more on this expansive patent application, read Apple's filing document here.