The company had previously explored replacing the click wheel with a virtual one as part of a touch-sensitive display. But now Apple appears to be looking at a third option: a touch-sensitive frame surrounding the display. Rather than click a physical button or press a virtual one on the screen, users would touch an area on the frame to operate their iPod.
IPod designers face a challenge in trying to create a device with as large a screen as possible while still providing an array of functions and an easy way to access them, Apple noted in the patent application, filed in June but not published on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's Web site until Thursday. The problem with touch-sensitive screens is that they usually generate virtual buttons or windows that ``overlay the content being displayed,'' the company said. This new approach may solve that problem.