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:



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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.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.