Apple-watchers are mulling over a fresh patent application from the company that suggests a multi-function handheld device.

As reported by MacNN, the patent application (filed with the US Patent and Trademark Office on 3 March 2006) describes a device that can be switched on the fly between multiple operating modes. Its application number is 20060197753.

MacNN claims it's an Apple patent, but the only listed name is Steven P Hotelling. Hotelling has been named in previous Apple patents.

"Preferably, the multi-functional hand-held device has at most only a few physical buttons, keys, or switches so that its display size can be substantially increased. The multi-functional hand-held device also incorporates a variety of input mechanisms, including touch sensitive screens, touch sensitive housings, display actuators, audio input, etc. The device also incorporates a user-configurable GUI for each of the multiple functions of the devices," the abstract of the filing explains.

It boasts a touch-sensitive screen across the front of the device, and can switch between different modes: music player, PDA, mobile phone, video player, camera and more.

"Before a particular device functionality can be used, it typically must be selected for use," the filing explains, adding that the device mode can be changed using a main menu.

When a new mode is implemented, the screen at the front changes its view, revealing the user interface for the mode chosen an the relevant software is "installed, loaded or activated".

"From that point on, the multi-functional device operates like the selected device."

The original report has an in-depth explanation of the filing, ending with a recommendation that readers should explore the original document for full clarity.

The extensive filing is available here.