The popular iPod music player might be about to loose its iconic wheel if rumours are to be believed. Apparently, Apple has been considering for some time to replace the wheel with a virtual one, as part of a touch-sensitive display. Now, it is believed that the iPod is instead to in fact gain a touch-sensitive frame surrounding the display. The idea is that users would touch an area on the frame to operate the device.

The designers of the iPod are challenged with trying to make the screen area on the device as large as possible, and also to provide a good array of functions that are easy to access. Touch-sensitive screen driven interfaces are commonly dogged by controls that overlay the content being displayed, and Apple are seeking to come up with something that deals with this. The company also wants to add other features to the iPod, such as a sensor that would determine whether to display images and text vertically or horizontally depending on how the user was holding the device. Similarly, the touch-sensitive controls would also change based on the device's orientation. The iPod may also gain a digital camera and some other enhancements in the near future.

Most of these speculations are based on Apple's patent filings, but these may not indeed be the best indicator of the future of the iPod.

"Apple files patents for a lot of products that never make it to market," said Tim Bajarin, an analyst with Creative Strategies, an industry consulting firm. "You really can't read too much into their patent filings without understanding that is part of their normal business procedure."