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The Devil's Advocate - Apple Files for Chameleon Patent and Morph Trademark [TMO Scoop]
by - August 13th, 2004

Apple filed a patent application for an "Active enclosure for computing device" on February 6, 2004, which was published by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) as US Patent Application No. 20040156192 on August 12, 2004. The application claims priority to earlier applications dating back to May 14, 1999. Duncan Kerr and Steve Hotelling are the inventors. The Abstract describes the invention:

A computing device is disclosed. The computing device includes a housing having an illuminable portion. The computing device also includes a light device disposed inside the housing. The light device is configured to illuminate the illuminable portion.

The patent goes on to describe how various Macintosh computers might be modified so that they can alter their physical appearance through blinky lights like a chameleon:

FIG. 1 is a simplified diagram of a chameleonic electronic device 10, in accordance with one embodiment of the invention. The word "chameleonic" refers to the fact that the electronic device 10 has the ability to alter its visual appearance.

Here, look at the pretty pictures:


Images from Apple's patent application.

It looks like the basic premise is to use red, green and blue LED's under a translucent case and light them up at different intensities to produce the various colors of the rainbow. We've heard of similar technology before, but this more recent application seems to be pushing the idea further.


An image from the application showing a control panel-like interface.

Apparently, you would be able to change your Mac's color to anything you like through a control panel. You can already change your wallpaper to suit your tastes, and this would let you do the same for your computer case.

At first blush this sounds like a lame computer version of the lava lamp:

In one embodiment, the illumination processing 600 mimics the colors appearing at the regions of the screen display to zones of the housing.

But in today's technology market, where fashion and expression are becoming ever more important, and as dorky as this invention may sound at first, this idea may well have legs. The ability to have a "mood ring" Mac, or the ability to tailor your computer to any décor would have a great deal of appeal. Look no further than the pink iPod mini to see that Apple can tap a greater demographic by merely altering the colors of a device.

The ability to achieve almost any color casing would seemingly have broad appeal and make the devices unique, while at the same time lower Apple's costs and inventory positions (i.e., with a single chameleon housing, there is no need to guess which colors to produce in what quantities).

The technology can do more than this, of course, and Apple notes how earlier computers were not able to give you feedback beyond the screen or speakers. Having your Mac glow orange when you receive an e-mail from your boss or flash red when there is a system error can be of use.

Considering this patent application claims priority back to 1999, it seems like Apple may have canned the idea. But here is where things may get interesting. On July 14, 2004, Apple filed for a trademark on a MORPH PAD in the UK. This apparently was filed for in the US on January 15, 2004 as application number 78-352718. It was filed in international classes 9, 15, and 42, which apply to the following areas:

9 - ELECTRICAL AND SCIENTIFIC APPARATUS Goods/Services COMPUTER HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE; COMPUTER SOFTWARE FOR USE IN AUTHORING, EDITING, SYNTHESIZING, ENCODING, DECODING, PLAYING, STORING AND ORGANIZING AUDIO DATA; ELECTRONIC MUSICAL SEQUENCERS AND SIGNAL PROCESSORS; ELECTRONIC TUNERS; ELECTRONIC EQUIPMENT FOR THE INTERACTIVE AND DIRECT PROCESSING AND DISTRIBUTION OF AUDIO DATA; ELECTRONIC KEYBOARDS.

15 - MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS ELECTRONIC SYNTHESIZERS, ELECTRONIC PIANOS, ELECTRONIC RHYTHM MACHINES, MUSICAL KEYBOARDS.

42 - SCIENTIFIC, TECHNOLOGICAL AND LEGAL SERVICES DESIGN AND DEVELOPMENT OF COMPUTER SOFTWARE FOR DIRECT PROCESSING, EDITING, ENCODING, DECODING, PLAYING, STORAGE, ORGANISING AND DISTRIBUTION OF AUDIO DATA.

"Morph" is a funny name. It in some ways reminds me of "pod." It's root is this kind of generic glob term allowing the device to do several things. I recall how strange the notion of a music device being called a pod seemed at first, but now it's an icon and a strong mark. A MorphPad may turn out to be just as strong a mark if the underlying device is equally flexible. But what kind of device is it anyway?

What is interesting about the MorphPad mark is when you combine that with the other design mark information uncovered by the fine folks at the Register, which hints of a mysterious tablet device (TMO's full coverage) -- then all of the sudden you have a movable, musical, and likely, video enabled tablet device that morphs. It may morph in what you use it for; it may morph in where you use it; and it may even morph in appearance. It may end up being a more media-centric version of the OQO transportable device.

Now it's not clear if there is any connection between Apple's chameleon computer Mac patent application and a device called a MorphPad. Just because the words morph and chameleon were used in recent trademark and patent filings by Apple doesn't mean there is some imminent connection. And just because the patent application notes that the technology may be used with most any type of computing device doesn't necessitate any relationship.

Honestly I doubt there is any more connection than the fact that I happened upon these two bits of information around the same time.

[Author's Addendum: And it seems like there isn't much connection between them. Apparently the Morph Pad is a musical interface technology introduced at NAMM as noted by one of our guests in the comment section.]

That being said, I have seen people customize their iBooks to glow different colors, and no doubt Apple could provide a much more refined implementation in a MorphPad if it were so inclined. The question is if this is something more than a few geeks would like?

My guess is if Apple produced a tasteful implementation, the market would eat-up a computer that could morph about in function and appearance. Having some morphable laptop/PDA device that can change appearances to suit people's fashion might not be that crazy. After all, if someone told you in 2000 that Apple was going to make an MP3 player with some PDA features in trendy colors, name it after a pod, and that it was going to result in today's iPod phenomena, well, you might have thought that was a bit flaky. Yet today the marketplace is demanding flexible and fashionable technology devices. Apparently, Apple has the means to meet such demands.

is an attorney. Please don't hold that against him. This work does not necessarily reflect the views and/or opinions of The Mac Observer, any third parties, or even John for that matter. No assertions of fact are being made, but rather the reader is simply asked to consider the possibilities.

You can send your comments directly to me, or you can also post your comments below.

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