The newest iPod patent says that the "touch" and the "screen" don't have to go together. The next gen iPod will have a normal display covering the front, and a separate touch surface on the back. Here's how it'll work.
The front screen of the iPod or iPod nano shows everything, but is no more touchy-feely than your iPod's screen today. When you touch the backside, however, transparent "ghost" controls appear on the front. You'd then use your finger on the backside of the device to navigate your way through the transparent controls up front. The key to the equation is force sensitivity. As you run your finger along the backside, the cursor hovers, but when you press harder, you can click on things.
Apple's patent covers not just music and video navigation but phone controls and more. Follow the jump for details.
From the patent application:
"A hand-held electronic device, comprising: a first surface having a display element coupled thereto; a second surface having a touch-surface coupled thereto, the second surface not coplanar with the first surface, the touch-surface adapted to detect a location on the touch-surface contacted by an object and an activation force applied to the touch-surface by the object; and control means for—displaying on the display element first information, control elements, and mark representing the contact's location on the touch-surface, determining when the mark is spatially coincident with one of the control elements, determining the activation force is greater than a specified threshold, and activating a function associated with the one control element."
"The method includes displaying first information appropriate to the device's function on a display element on a top surface of the electronic device (e.g., video, graphic or textual information), displaying one or more control elements and a cursor on the display element (e.g., numeric or alphanumeric keys, buttons, sliders and control wheels), adjusting the cursor's displayed position in response to an object contacting a force-sensitive touch-surface on the device's bottom surface, and activating or executing a function associated with one of the control elements when the cursor is positioned "over" the control element and a force is applied to the force-sensitive touch-surface at a position corresponding to the cursor. In a preferred embodiment, the control elements are displayed transparently so that the first information is not totally occluded by the display of the control elements. A program implementing the method may be stored in any media that is readable and executable by a computer processor."
This kind of design allows for smaller iPods and iPhones, since you're making the most of the front and back screens of the device. We just have one question: what the hell do we do with our thumbs?