Sometimes figuring out a company's intentions from their patent filings is pretty straightforward; other times, like with Apple's new "Virtual Input Tools" filing, you have to read between the lines a little. Patently Apple spotted what they're suggesting could be Apple's "new and revolutionary feature for Mac OS X" as teased in a job listing back in July. The concept is that a virtual user interface - such as a trackpad shown on a touchscreen, or a sub-section of a notebook's display mapped to the physical trackpad - could allow for proportional control of the interface or what's being displayed.
For instance, tapping on an image, a section of text or something else on-screen could then map that selection to the entirety of the trackpad. Touching the top left hand corner of the trackpad would therefore correspond to the top left hand corner of the selection. The virtual UI could be 2D or 3D, too, and respond to multitouch gestures; moreover it could be interactive:
"For example, a virtual object can be initially presented as a two-dimensional representation. Upon receiving input selecting or activating the virtual object, the virtual input device application can animate the virtual object such that it becomes a three-dimensional representation, or the virtual object provides a preview, e.g., the virtual object becomes a video clip or plays an audio clip. In some implementations, the virtual input device application 100 can generate text related to the virtual objects. For example, the text can be used to identify the virtual object. The text can be initially presented with the virtual objects, or be presented only with selected or activated virtual objects" Apple patent documentation
There's also room for virtual game controllers, different virtual interfaces interacting, and more. Not as obvious as some patent applications, perhaps, but with a whole lot more potential for changing the way users interact with OS X.