Oh? This is two years old? Damn

Apple has filed a US patent for what appears to be some sort of iPhone nano, potentially confirming months of speculation the company plans to widen its market with introduction of a smaller, cheaper model.

The design features a display all across one side of the device with a force-sensitive touch-screen surface covering the other. The filing describes the device as offering the capacity to make calls, SMS messages, for use as an iPod and for taking photos.

The most robust rumours of recent weeks have suggested Apple intends putting cameras in many of its iPod products.

The front display is pretty intelligent, it’s capable of switching between various modes, including a numeric keypad, a QWERTY keyboad, an iPod clickwheel and a clickwheel with a menu next to it.

Interestingly, the sole inventor of the patent is John G. Elias. What makes this curious is the patent wasn’t originally owned by Apple but has been passed across to the company. Elias is currently working with Apple on development of touch-related technologies.

The patent lends a little weight to claims made last year by UK newspaper the Daily Mail. In a report published in August 2008, the Mail claimed Apple planned to introduce a smaller, cheaper iPhone nano in time for Christmas ‘08. ‘Course, we know this didn’t happen, but the description of said product remains curious.

“A cut down version, with the candy bar shape of iPod nano music players, would be a huge hit as a Christmas gift,” an industry insider told the Mail. The device described hosted a touch wheel on the back and a display on the front – now it looks like Apple’s moved away from any moving parts in this purported device.

Initial reports predicating an iPhone nano emerged in April last year. At that time many Apple-watchers dismissed such notions, saying Apple would be unlikely to damage its own market.

However, Apple has a pattern of extending families of devices to extend and embrace new markets, as seen in the history of the iPod (or read Cult of iPod ), which eventually morphed to become the iPod classic , iPod touch, iPod nano, and iPod shuffle – and, indeed, iPhone.

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