Apple looking to replace IR sensors with sonar technology in next-gen devices

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Date: Thursday, October 18th, 2012, 07:52
Category: Hardware, iPhone, News, Patents

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Look at it this way: sonar’s been around for a while.

And it’s always been nifty.

Per the United States Patent and Trademark Office, an Apple patent application published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday describes a system that may one day replace the infrared proximity sensors deployed in current iPhones with sonar-like technology.

Apple’s invention for “Passive proximity detection” negates the need for the current IR sensor, replacing it with a system that can detect and process sound waves to determine how far away an object is from a portable device.

Much like passive echolocation or a loose interpretation of passive sonar, the filing describes a system that takes two sound wave samples, a “before” and an “after,” and compares the two to determine if an external object’s proximity to the device changed. “Sampling” occurs when a transducer, such as a microphone, picks up ambient sound and sends a corresponding signal to the device’s processor for analysis.

The invention relies on basic acoustic principles as applied to modern electronics. For example, a microphone’s signal equalization curve from an audio source changes when the device moves towards or away from an object, which “variably reflect[s] elements of the sound wave.”

This effect may be noticed when sound is reflected by soft material as opposed to a hard surface. Generally, sound reflected off the soft surface will seem muted when compared to the same sound reflected off a hard surface located at the same distance and angle from an audio transducer and a sound source.

In one of the invention’s embodiments, two microphones are situated at different planes on a device, and detect the subtle changes in broad-audio-spectrum caused by interference when a sound wave interacts with an object.

To relate this to a common phenomenon, when a sea shell is held up to one’s ear a resonant cavity is formed that amplifies ambient sounds. This hi-Q filtering results in the ocean like sounds one hears.

In another example, response signals produced by two microphones located at either end of a device can be compared to determine if an object is nearer to one or the other. For example, when a user’s face is close to the top of a device, as is usual when talking on the phone, the microphone located near the ear will produce a different reactance ratio than the microphone located at the device’s base.

Basically, the signals from two transducers, or microphones, detect slight changes in ambient sound and sends corresponding signals to a processor which then compares the two to determine whether an object is in close proximity to either of the mics.

Monitoring of the microphones can be live or set to take samples at predetermined intervals, such as after a user begins to speak. Placement of the microphones can also be tweaked, and in some cases can be located next to each other.

Finally, a more active detection method is proposed, where an internal speaker generates noise, taking the place of ambient sound waves.

As portable electronic devices become increasingly smaller, the need to develop space-saving components, or to combine parts to serve a number of uses, becomes more pressing. Such is the case with Apple’s latest iPhone 5, a device that packs 4G LTE, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth communications, a battery that can last for days, a 4-inch Retina display, two cameras, and a litany of other features into a chassis only 7.6 mm deep.

Space is already at a premium with the iPhone, as evidenced by the new Lightning connector, which Apple’s Worldwide Marketing chief Phil Schiller said was needed to create such a thin device. Moving forward, the company is rumored to incorporate near field communications (NFC) for e-wallet payments, which will take up even more precious room.

It remains to be seen if Apple will one day employ the passive proximity detection technology in a consumer device, however the iPhone is a platform ripe for deployment as it already boasts three mics for noise canceling and call quality purposes.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Assorted Verizon customers report time-shifting issue with iPhone 5

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Date: Thursday, October 18th, 2012, 07:15
Category: iPhone, News, Software

Well…this is why they invented firmware updates.

Per AppleInsider, a number of iPhone 5 owners, especially those on U.S. network Verizon, are complaining of an issue where the incorrect day and time is displayed, sometimes jumping weeks ahead or behind the actual date.

According to multiple posts on Apple’s Support Communities forum, a number of iPhone 5 users are experiencing what appears to be a problem with the handset’s automatic date and time setting feature.

It is suspected that the issue may lie in the handset’s compatibility with Verizon’s network, as most of the reports on the 21-page thread come from that carrier’s subscribership.

The bug was initially reported on Sept. 24, the iPhone 5’s first day of availability, and subsequent posts citing similar timing-related difficulties have been streaming in ever since. There have been no reports of time-shifting with other iPhone models, including those upgraded to iOS 6.

While the exact cause of problem is unknown, speculation points to a bug with how the timing code embedded in Verizon’s CDMA cell network is handled.

In order to operate properly, all CDMA cell towers transmit a time signal based on data from an on-site GPS receiver, allowing the network to stay in synchronization. It is possible that either Apple’s handset is somehow misinterpreting the time signals, or timing data from certain Verizon cell towers is faulty, though at this point the theories are mere conjecture.

Forum members say both Apple and Verizon are aware of the iPhone 5’s time-shifting issue, however no clear remedies were offered to the few who contacted the companies’ customer support staff. Some have found limited success in performing a factory reset, but the method is not a sure-fire solution.

It appears that each party is placing blame on the other, further confusing the situation. Apple forum member “dtenberge” claims to have been contacted by a “Senior iOS Advisor” who said, “I just got a response from our Engineers, at this time we cannot see anything wrong on our end, they did suggest that you contact Verizon and open up a ‘ticket’ and have them look into it.”

Another member, Janine Costanzo, said, “We just called Verizon, and they said they’ve had some reports of this problem, but it’s nothing on their end. They checked the cell towers in our area (SF Bay Area) and the time is right on them. They said it’s likely a software issue on Apple’s end, so we should call Apple and tell them the problem and hope that they release a software fix for it.”

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available and if you’ve seen this issue on your end, please let us know in the comments.

Rumor: Leaked “iPad mini” display component to feature same aspect ratio as traditional iPad

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Date: Thursday, October 18th, 2012, 07:55
Category: Hardware, iPad, Rumor

Whatever comes out at the media event next Tuesday, it should be interesting.

Per Etrade Supply and Nowhereelse.fr, new photos claiming to show a display panel for Apple’s so-called “iPad mini,” with an aspect ratio identical to the screen on Apple’s traditional iPad.

Pictures of the component were published on Wednesday with the display panel measuring nearly 8 inches across diagonally, and is 162 millimeters long, 124 millimeters wide.

While the resolution of the screen cannot be determined from the component, earlier rumors had suggested the display will be 1,024 by 768 pixels. That’s the same resolution as the iPad 2, which would allow applications designed for the iPad to run natively on the iPad mini without modification.

Some recent iPad mini mockups had prompted speculation that the device could have a 16-to-9 ratio closer to that of the newly released iPhone 5. But the panel pictured on Wednesday has a 4-to-3 aspect ratio, matching that of the 9.7-inch iPad.

iPad mini mockups may appear to have a slightly longer display because they show a device with a thinner bezel to the left and right of the screen when held in portrait mode. It’s expected that Apple’s new iPad will have a thinner bezel to allow it to be held more easily with one hand.

Also included among the pictures is a battery claimed to be from Apple’s iPad mini. The model number listed is “A1445,” and it’s rated as 3.72V, 16.7Whr, and 4490mAh.

The latest battery picture is joined by a previous leak that surfaced over the weekend, showing the same 16.7 watt-hour battery. The purported iPad mini part suggests Apple’s battery will offer more energy than the cells found in Google’s Nexus 7 and Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD.

Apple is set to hold an event next Tuesday, Oct. 23, where it is expected to unveil the iPad mini. Invitations sent to members of the press this week promised that the company has “a little more to show you.”

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

VLC updated to 2.0.4

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Date: Thursday, October 18th, 2012, 06:47
Category: News, Software

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Video Lan Client, the nigh-indispensable open source media player for multiple audio and video formats (MPEG, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, Divx, ogg, etc.), was updated to version 2.0.4. The new version, a 43.3 megabyte download, adds the following fixes and changes:
– Rework of the Mac OS X interface.

– Fix video output on old Macs, notably PowerPC and GMA950 intel Macs.

– Support for HiDPI, aka Retina Display.

– Translations updates and new Scottish Gaelic translation.

– Fixes for splitted RAR, MKV segmented, mp4 and Real media files playback.

– Rewrite of the Digital TV module on Windows.

– Enhancements in HLS, Blu-Ray and various codecs support.

– Fixes for subtitles auto-detection.

– Fixes on Qt, skins2 and web interfaces.

VLC 2.0.4 requires an Intel-based Mac running Mac OS X 10.6 or later to install and run.

If you’ve tried the new version and have any feedback to offer, let us know in the comments.