Will This Be Apple’s Most Underwhelming Product Yet?

The rumor mill continues to turn, and this time it has released re-submitted patent documents that suggest Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is revisiting its smart-pen program, indicated by numerous illustrations carried by AppleInsider. The U.S. Patent Office has issued Apple the patents for a mobile computer enclosed within a pen-type device, and have added cellular and GPS capabilities to the patent that was originally filed in the U.S. in 2008, when Apple transferred the rights for the patent from British Telecommunications PLC (NYSE:BT).

The pen includes accelerometers that can theoretically identify handwritten input and transfer the data to its digital portion and GUI (graphical user interface) navigation. The refiled patent adds 11 claims to the original 36, each including the words “cellular telephone” to the previous assertions, and one mention includes GPS positioning technology.

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According to the patent text, the device was originally meant to compete with the Palm PPC, which included a built-in keyboard. The pen was intended to have the same functionality as the PPC, but repackage it in a more ergonomically-friendly hand-held format.

The keyboard has been done away with, as the device has various sensors disposed throughout its body to detect hand movements, such as tilt and acceleration, which is then output as alphanumeric or graphical data, AppleInsider has said.

A built-in LCD screen provides the menu and its options, and is flanked on both sides by either pressure or touch-sensitive buttons that allow the user to scroll through and navigate the device. Similar to other iDevices, the screen can be locked in either portrait or landscape mode.

AppleInsider noted that in addition to the numerous sensors already packed into the pen body, there is a proximity sensor that can adjust the font size based on how far away the device is from a user’s eye line. This technique is further used to determine what hand the pen is in, thereby allowing on-screen text to be flipped accordingly.

Not as surprisingly, the pen also features sound input and output, which can allow the user to dictate speech into text and vice versa. Various other functions include docking stations, infrared data transmission, and mouse simulation through surface sensors. The device can support full PDA functionality, such as email correspondence and storage of a contacts list, AppleInsider said.

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No word was offered as far as the device’s ability to be incorporated with existing iPad and other touch-based devices. Syncing of data between them will be a likely feature, but don’t throw your Wacom Tablet out just yet.

While it has its practical purposes to be sure, the notion of Apple creating a computer-pen seems, well, a bit underwhelming for the company. Something about it just doesn’t posses that Apple ‘flair’ that the company’s products tend to have. Maybe it is because it just seems so practical — it doesn’t have the play factor that the rumored watch would have, for instance.

Additionally, it is certainly up to spec with Apple’s passion for technology; its impressive array of sensors and wireless capabilities have Apple written all over it. However, a pen-based computer seems more like a product that a company would build up from, rather than be introduced at the colossal size that Apple has reached.

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