Steve Jobs Conquers Third Dimension?

Hollywood has for years envisioned touchscreen, 3-D computers, which you can't buy. Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) CEO Steve Jobs wants to change that.

If you'll please put on these red-and-blue glasses ...
A 2007 patent filing uncovered by Mac Rumors last week describes a new Mac OS that would emulate the laws of physics to simulate the depth of a real office; a place where files are stacked and workspaces cleared. If brought to life, it could enable countless new methods for organizing and presenting data. At the very least, on-screen, do-it-yourself mashups of the sort Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) is aiming for with its tab-happy Chrome browser would become easier to create. Depth adds the necessary space and context.

But could Apple really create an environment like this? Wouldn't supercomputer specialists IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) and Cray (Nasdaq: CRAY  ) be better at producing something so sophisticated? It was IBM, after all, that built Deep Blue, a computing chess master that outmaneuvered former champion Garry Kasparov in a widely publicized 1997 match.

Steve can build it, he has the technology
Certainly IBM and Cray are better equipped today to deliver the processing horsepower needed to create the sort of 3-D system Tom Cruise is seen using in Minority Report.

But if there's one thing we know about Apple it's that Jobs and his team have mastered the art of user experience. We also know that Apple's existing technology is blurring the lines between science and science fiction. The iPhone, for example, sports voice activation and advanced touchscreen technology, leaving Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) and Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM  ) racing to catch up. Mix in a multidimensional interface and you're at least one-third of the way there.

And let's not forget P.A. Semi, a chip designer Apple acquired in April for $278 million. So advanced are its designs that defense contractors who've used its chips for weapons threatened to stand in the way of a deal. Then, in November, Apple tried to hire former IBM chip genius Mark Papermaster to lead its iPod and iPhone lines. Big Blue sued and Papermaster has yet to join the iEmpire's payroll. The worry? He'd spill chip-making trade secrets to a known rebel with a history of successful paradigm shifts.

In other words: Even before this patent discovery, all signs pointed to Apple reinventing the very architecture upon which Macs are built, from the chipset on up.

The structure of this scientific revolution
Good thing. Apple may be cheap by the numbers, but today's investors are no different than those who've come before; we all assume Jobs' genius won't fade. 3-D is what we're expecting. Maybe not tomorrow, or even in three years, but in a decade? Unquestionably.

If that sounds like serious engineering pressure, it is. Certainly more than Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) faces with Windows. But Apple's carried this burden for all of Jobs' reign and has yet to wilt. Our 120,000-strong Motley Fool CAPS community doesn't believe that it will now:

Metric

Apple

CAPS stars (5 max)

****

Total ratings

20,914

Bullish ratings

19,342

Percent Bulls

92.5%

Bearish ratings

1,572

Percent Bears

7.5%

Bullish pitches

4,214

Bearish pitches

453

Data current as of Dec. 14, 2008.

"In my opinion they [Apple] are usually ahead of the curve when it comes to innovation," wrote CAPS investor spilzer last week. "That's a quality companies will need as we move forward into this uncharted water of economic craziness. I've been waiting for a while to get them at a bargain price and now's the opportunity!"

Agreed, but that's my take and I already own shares. I'm more interested in what you think. Would you buy Apple at these levels? Would you short it? Let us know by signing up for CAPS today. It's 100% free to participate.

Apple is a Stock Advisor selection. Microsoft and Nokia are Inside Value picks. Google is a Rule Breakers recommendation. Try any of these Foolish services free for 30 days. There's no obligation to subscribe.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers had stock and options positions in Apple and Google and stock positions in IBM and Nokia at the time of publication. Find his portfolio holdings here and all of his Foolish writings here. Or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool.

The Motley Fool is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. Its disclosure policy is available in living color.


Read/Post Comments (2) | Recommend This Article (3)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On December 15, 2008, at 3:07 PM, MartysMind wrote:

    Unfortunately this article is not very helpful and in many ways misleading.

    For example, 3D office technology such as described has not only been already achieved, it is at this point old hat. We can do realistic physics based 3D environments on commodity desktop computers at this point. The question is not weather it can be done, but do consumers want it.

    Beyond that, statements that infer that P.A. Semi's technology is extremely advanced and may be instrumental is ... silly. P.A. Semi's innovation area is incremental for most applications and has to do primarily with low power consumption rather than process might. The defense contractors were upset about the possible loss of a single source supplier, not "advanced" technology.

    I hope future articles will not jump to unfounded and misleading conclusions.

    -Marty

  • Report this Comment On December 15, 2008, at 4:11 PM, TMFMileHigh wrote:

    Hi Marty. Thanks for commenting. You may be right but other sources contradict your statements about P.A. Semi: http://tinyurl.com/49w6tw

    And while it's true we've had 3-D desktop systems -- I've seen them -- there's been no commercially viable 3-D system that combines with a touchscreen for a deeper, richer desktop. That's what I see Apple (and Microsoft and others) aiming for.

    FWIW and Foolish best,

    Tim (TMFMileHigh)

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