Apple Files For New Multiple "Persona" Patent For Use In PDAs
June 16th, 2003

This is not an Apple PDA?

For a company that swears it has no plans on releasing or pursuing a PDA, Apple has a funny way of showing it. And "it" looks something like this:

(Click each image for a larger, more legible version.)

The above device can be found in a patent application, 20030107606, filed by Apple on November 26, 2002, and published on June 12, 2003; it is a continuation of an application filed on August 7, 1995. The application concerns itself with multiple personas for mobile pen-based devices. The abstract details:

A computer system is disclosed which may adopt one of many personas, depending upon the role that its owner is currently playing. The computer system includes a central repository of extensible personas available to all applications running on the computer system. Each such persona has associated therewith a suite of parameters, or specific values for parameters, which are appropriate for conducting computer implemented transactions under a particular persona. The computer system further includes a graphical user interface which allows the user to switch from persona to persona by selecting a particular persona from a list of available personas displayed on a display screen of the computer system. By selecting such persona, the user causes the computer system to globally change the entire suite of parameter values so that subsequent transactions conducted with the computer system employ the parameter values of the current persona.

In short, the invention seems to let you, or others, operate your PDA as a different, or multiple, persona(s). This is a sort of multi-user environment for PDA users, which would allow John or Jane Doe to use the PDA for different types of transactions as their own person under their own multiple identities, with the user environment reflecting their own preferences.

[Author’s Addendum: The following excerpt from the patent has been added just to clarify that the patent deals with multiple roles for an individual PDA owner, and/or for multiple discrete users of the PDA. In other words, John Doe might conduct a transaction as a private person, and another as a representative of the company for which he works; while his wife Jane may take the PDA and also use various personas for conducting different transactions:

For example, various of the personas may have associated therewith separate addresses, phone numbers, credit card numbers, etc. Often these various pieces of information must be separately specified for such activities as automatically generating correspondence, sending a facsimile, or purchasing items. Specifically, to charge a facsimile transmission from a pen-based computer system, the computer system owner might use one phone card number (for a business line) when adopting a professional persona and a different phone card number (for a home line) when adopting a private citizen persona. The situation may be further complicated because a given pen-based computer system might be used by its owner's family members or other colleagues from time-to-time. Each of these other users have their own personas.]

However, what is interesting is that the mobile device in the patent application is not an iPod. The patent application employs a Newton style PDA throughout, which, considering the invention relates to pen-based computing, is not too surprising.

From the "Background of the Invention" section of the patent application:

The present invention relates generally to computer systems, and more particularly to systems for adjusting collections of parameters used in conducting transactions in pen-based computer systems.

Although this far from predicts the imminent return of the Newton, one does wonder why Apple would be developing technology for PDA style devices, re-filing patent applications only to not pursue the making or release of a product in the area at some future time. True, such basically fruitless R&D is not uncommon. This especially holds as the application seems to be a continuation of an older application; all this really suggests is that Apple is just trying to milk out another patent issuance after sinking money into the development and prosecution of the patent application thus far. Still, it is also every bit as common, if not more so in this economy, for companies to abandon patent applications when they are no longer pursuing a product release strategy.

To me, it seems natural to slap a touch sensitive and larger screen onto the iPod and integrate some on-the-fly, pen-input functions. However, Apple has repeatedly proclaimed that it is not pursuing the PDA market. Just ignore the fact that the iPod handles contact and calendar information with aplomb. You will also have to ignore that Apple has gone back on its promises on its product strategies on numerous occasions; for instance, after its latest proclamation announcing the death of the CRT, Apple followed up with the release of the CRT based eMac. All of which makes one wonder if Steve Jobs is a big fan of the Eagles -- at what temperature does hell freeze over in Cupertino?