Apple's patent application, which was published by the US Patent and Trademark Office, involves a cover that could display extra icons.
The current Smart Cover with minimal smarts. (Credit: Apple)
Apple has some ideas up its sleeve to make its Smart Cover, well, smarter.
The US Patent and Trademark Office published an application that Apple had filed last year and related to a Smart Cover boasting a "thin flexible display" that "greatly enhances the overall functionality of the tablet device".
According to the patent application, the cover would come with a connector that would attach to the tablet, to draw power. Once connected, the Smart Cover could be used to "present visual information" and work with the same touch technology found in a slate's display. In one image in Apple's patent application, the company shows the Smart Cover displaying icons that users could interact with, simply by clicking on them.
Engadget, which was first to discover the patent application, posted a host of photos from the document showing how the Smart Cover might work. In one case, Apple describes a method for folding it under the iPad and allowing users to control on-screen video with touch controls on the cover. In another, the Smart Cover is laid out below the iPad to create a dual-screen experience, similar to Nintendo's 3DS. Apple also presented an image showing how the cover could double as a virtual keyboard.
Interestingly, Apple's Smart Cover won't lose its current functionality. The cover would still be used to protect the iPad's screen and would be flexible, allowing users to fold it and use it as a stand.
In June, Microsoft announced its own cover for its upcoming Surface tablet. That cover, which will protect the tablet's screen, can be unfolded and used as a keyboard.
Whether Apple will launch its improved Smart Cover to compete against Microsoft's offering remains to be seen. Apple, like other tech companies, files a slew of patent applications for products that, even if the relevant patents are awarded, never launch.
CNET has contacted Apple for comment on the patent application. We will update this story when we have more information.