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.

Apple announces “a little more” press event for October 23rd, hints at iPad mini, other new products

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Date: Wednesday, October 17th, 2012, 07:55
Category: Hardware, iMac, Mac mini, MacBook Pro, News

It always helps when Apple schedules an actual media event around its new products.

Per The Loop, Apple on Tuesday sent out invitations for a media event that will be held in one week, where the company is expected to launch a handful of new products, headlined by a smaller iPad with a 7.85-inch display.

Apple will hold the event at the California Theatre in San Jose, Calif., at 10 a.m. Pacific, 1 p.m. Eastern. The venue is a change from the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, where Apple announced the iPhone 5 along with its updated iPod lineup last month.

The invitations sent out members of the press feature the top of Apple’s iconic logo against a background of colors. The tagline is “We’ve got a little more to show you,” hinting at the company’s so-called “iPad mini.”

Earlier Tuesday, AppleInsider was first to report that 24 new, different iPad configurations are set to be released by Apple. Four models — described as P101, P103, P105 and P107 — were detailed via stock-keeping units ranked as “good,” “better” and “best,” each with two color options, presumably black and white.

Inventory of the entry-level “P101″ model is expected to be greatest at launch, suggesting Apple plans to focus on a low barrier to entry for its new, smaller iPad. One retail inventory list that surfaced last weekend suggested an 8-gigabyte model could cost around US$249.

The iPad mini is expected to feature a smaller bezel than the full-size iPad, and could run a screen resolution of 1,024-by-768 pixels that would allow it to run native iPad 2 applications without any modifications. It is also expected to have forward and rear facing cameras, as well as the new smaller Lightning connector found on the iPhone 5 and latest iPods.

But the smaller iPad isn’t going to be the only device showcased by Apple next week, rumors have suggested. The company is also said to be planning to unveil a 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display onstage at next week’s event.

Whether or not it receives stage time, a new iMac could also be in the cards for next week. Rumors have circulated in the reseller community that the updated desktop could debut one day after the iPad mini event, on Oct. 24.

And the diminutive Mac mini, Apple’s small desktop computer and least expensive Mac, is also overdue for an update to Intel’s latest Ivy Bridge processors. Supply of the Mac mini has been constrained at third-party resellers since earlier this month, which is often one of the first signs that a product refresh is forthcoming.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available as well as up to the minute coverage of the event next week.

Apple releases Java for Mac OS X 10.6 Update 11

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Date: Wednesday, October 17th, 2012, 07:12
Category: News, Software

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Never knock a good Java update.

On Tuesday, Apple released Java for Mac OS X 10.6 Update 11, a Java update for its Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) operating system.

The update, an 81.9 megabyte download, uninstalls the Apple-provided Java applet plug-in from all web browsers. To use applets on a web page, click on the region labeled “Missing plug-in” to go download the latest version of the Java applet plug-in from Oracle.

As always, the update can also be located and installed via the built-in “Software Update” feature in Mac OS X.

The Java for Mac OS X 10.6 Update 11 fix requires an Intel-based Mac running Mac OS X 10.6.8 or later to install.

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

Apple releases Java 2012-006 update for Mac OS X 10.7, 10.8 operating systems

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Date: Wednesday, October 17th, 2012, 07:20
Category: News, Software

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Ya can’t knock a useful Java update.

On Tuesday, Apple released its Java 2012-006 update for its Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion) and Mac OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion) operating systems. The update, a 67 megabyte download, uninstalls the Apple-provided Java applet plug-in from all web browsers. To use applets on a web page, click on the region labeled “Missing plug-in” to go download the latest version of the Java applet plug-in from Oracle.

As always, the update can also be located and installed via the built-in “Software Update” feature in Mac OS X.

The Java 2012-006 update requires an Intel-based Mac running Mac OS X 10.7 or later to install.

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

Rumor: Leaked SKU list shows upcoming “iPad mini” available in 24 different configurations

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Date: Tuesday, October 16th, 2012, 08:46
Category: iPad, Rumor

Per AppleInsider, Apple will launch its “iPad mini” in 24 different configurations, suggesting four different storage capacities and two color options.

According to a leaked list of product stock-keeping units, or SKUs, the unit will be available in 24 different varieties. Four different models will be offered — described as P101, P103, P105 and P107 — which one a source with the inventory said likely signifies four different storage capacities.

The lineup could suggest that Apple plans to introduce an 8-gigabyte model that would serve as an entry-level model for the lower-priced 7.85-inch iPad. Currently, the full-sized iPad does not come with a storage capacity lower than 16 gigabytes.

Each of the four different product descriptions also come with three different distinctions: “GOOD,” “BETTER,” and “BEST,” which could signify Wi-Fi-only, 3G, and 4G LTE models, respectively. Each model is also available in “A” and “B” variants, which likely identify color options of black and white.

The source said the company’s initial shipments suggest availability of the presumed entry-level “P101″ model will be the greatest at launch. An inventory list that surfaced from a retailer last weekend suggested an entry-level 8-gigabyte model could retail around US$249.

The person also added that Apple is rumored to begin selling new iMac desktops on Oct. 24, one day after the anticipated Oct. 23 event. In addition to the iPad mini, Apple is also expected to unveil a new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display, but no timeframe on its availability was given.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple granted patent for unauthorized iPhone usage, detection and reporting technology

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Date: Tuesday, October 16th, 2012, 08:24
Category: News, Patents

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This could be useful.

Among a series of patents granted to Apple on Tuesday, an interesting invention regarding iPhone security was discovered, with the property describing various methods to protect sensitive data if an unauthorized user gets hold of the device.

Per AppleInsider and the United States Patent and Trademark Office, U.S. Patent No. 8,289,130 for “Systems and methods for identifying unauthorized users of an electronic device” offers a unique security solution to the ever-present problem of having one’s iPhone lost or stolen.

The patent’s begins by stating that “This is generally directed to identifying unauthorized users of an electronic device,” but goes far beyond any identification technology currently available in Apple’s handset. For example, one embodiment of the invention calls for heartbeat monitoring, which can be used to determine whether the person holding an iPhone is its owner.

From the patent abstract:
In some embodiments, an unauthorized user of the electronic device can be detected by identifying particular activities that may indicate suspicious behavior. In some embodiments, an unauthorized user can be detected by comparing the identity of the current user to the identity of the owner of the electronic device. When an unauthorized user is detected, various safety measures can be taken.

The patent essentially covers three main operations: the detection of an unauthorized user; the gathering of information of an unauthorized user; and the transmission of an alert notification to the electronic device’s owner containing said information.

As mentioned above, a person’s heartbeat can be used to determined whether he or she is the owner of a device, though more conventional methods are also described, such as taking a photograph or matching voice recordings. Perhaps most effective are the patent’s other embodiments in which an unauthorized user is identified through a number of actions. For example, “entering an incorrect password a predetermined number of times in a row, hacking of the electronic device, jailbreaking of the electronic device, unlocking of the electronic device, removing a SIM card from the electronic device, or moving a predetermined distance away from a synced device” can all be used as means of detection.

When a non-owner is identified, the device can enter an information gathering mode in which location, photographs, voice recordings, screenshots, keylogs, and internet usage are stored. Another option is to restrict the phone’s functions and erase sensitive information when an unauthorized user takes control of the device.

Finally, an alert is sent to a “responsible party,” such as the device owner or police, containing a predetermined message like “Warning, your electronic device may have been stolen.” In addition, the alert, sent via text, email, instant message, or over the internet, can contain the information the device gathered when in the hands of the unauthorized user.

In some embodiments, near field communications, or NFC, can be employed to pair the handset with a key fob or similar device. If the phone moves far enough away from the key fob, it will issue a warning which will turn into a formal alert if the device moves a substantial distance.

As with most Apple patents, it is unclear if the technology will be deployed in an upcoming product, however recent additions to iOS like Find My iPhone illustrate the company’s focus on device security.

Cool stuff and it’ll be interesting to see what comes of it.

iFixit completes seventh-gen iPod nano teardowns, finds additional NAND Flash memory, Bluetooth, assorted mystery chips

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Date: Tuesday, October 16th, 2012, 08:57
Category: Hardware, iPod, iPod Nano, News

It’s the teardowns that make things interesting.

Per iFixit, the teardown of the seventh-gen iPod nano revealed the following interesting components:

- The Toshiba THGBX2G7D2JLA01, which includes 16 gigabytes of NAND flash. The Broadcom BCM2078KUBG also includes both the Bluetooth and FM radios.

- A touchscreen controller from Texas Instruments identified as 343S0538.

- A chip from NXP Semiconductors labeled “1609A1″.

The device also contained the following mystery chips which have yet to be identified:
- 75203 23017

- 75292 98820

- 339S0193

- Apple 338S1099

- Apple 338S1146

iFixit also found that the battery in the new iPod nano is soldered directly to the logic board and adhered to the back of the display. They did find a plastic pull tab presumed to be in place for removing the battery, however they found the adhesive holding the battery in place was too strong.

The new 3.7V, 0.8Wh, 220 mAh battery is more than twice that of the 0.39 Wh rating of the sixth-generation iPod nano. The solutions provider also found that the LCD and digitizer glass are not fused together, which means each component could be replaced separately.

The same could not be said for the battery, Lightning connector, or volume controls, all of which are soldered to the logic board. Pulling out the logic board also removes the battery, button cable, Lightning connector, and headphone jack.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available and if you’ve snagged a new seventh-generation iPod nano and have any feedback to offer about it, please let us know in the comments.