Apple patents point to effort to reduce noise on MacBook Pro fan modules

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Date: Thursday, December 20th, 2012, 09:02
Category: Hardware, MacBook Pro, News, Patents

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You know the fans on your MacBook Pro?

They’re about to get quieter.

Per the United States Patent and Trademark Office, a trio of patent applications discovered on Thursday reveal how the asymmetric fan blade spacing used in the newest MacBook Pro with Retina display models quiet the spinning impeller without sacrificing performance.

The three patent applications, all titled “Centrifugal blower with asymmetric blade spacing” and numbered sequentially (1, 2, 3) cover separate fan designs that feature asymmetrically aligned fan blades, two with 31 blades and one with 61 blades.

Apple first introduced its asymmetric fan design in June with the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display and a subsequent teardown revealed that the laptop uses a 31-blade unit.

Typical fans incorporate a prime number of blades that are spaced at angles equidistant to each other, an industry standard aimed at reducing unwanted sound. At issue is the blade pass frequency (BPF) which produces harmonics from the pressure wave formed at the tip of each blade. The most noticeable source of noise is the pole pass frequency (PPF) tone, or the “vibration and resulting pressure waves created by the poles in the motor of the fan.”

Apple’s design calls for variably-angled blades that controls the spectral distribution of tones created by the fan. First-hand tests have found the new design to not necessarily quiet fan noise as much as create a less grating sound.

From the patent:
“Dispersing the energy of a tone over a number of discrete frequencies can make the tone seem less noisy to the listener by reducing the perception on the tonal BPF [blade pass frequency]. Spacing fan blades unevenly, while maintaining impeller balance, is one method of controlling pure-tone effects.”

According to the invention, the rearrangement of the fan blade angles cancels some of the noise usually heard in conventional portable computers but allows for the unit to still be balanced as the center of mass is located at the shaft of the impeller. The modified design also allows for the fan system to be smaller, thus permitting a thinner laptop as seen with the Retina MacBook Pros.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple, Google reportedly partnering on $500 million bid for Kodak’s patents

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Date: Monday, December 10th, 2012, 07:50
Category: News, Patents

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Apple and Google may not always see eye to eye on matters, but both of them know a deal when they see one.

Per Bloomberg, Apple has reportedly teamed up with Google to offer a bid for Kodak patents worth over US$500 million.

On Friday, the news site cited two sources familiar with Kodak’s ongoing bankruptcy proceedings who claim Apple and Google have become partners in a grab for 1,100 patents owned by the erstwhile photography monolith. Sources say the Apple-Google consortium was behind a bid placed a bid earlier this week.

When bidding first started, the companies led two separate teams, with Apple’s consortium including Microsoft and patent holdings firm Intellectual Ventures, while Google joined up with RPX Corp. and a number of Asian handset manufacturers. At the time, it was thought that HTC and Samsung were part of Google’s team.

Before the imaging patent auction began in August, Kodak estimated the value of its portfolio to fall between US$2.2 and US$2.6 billion, though the first round of bids were reportedly in the range of US$150 million to US$250 million. Under the terms of Kodak’s US$793 million loan agreement, the winning bid for the portfolio must not be lower than US$500 million.

Interestingly, Kodak previously leveraged patents in a suit against Apple and HTC, as well as an ITC case against Apple and RIM, as a last-ditch effort to stay afloat. Apple subsequently took action and sued Kodak after claiming ownership of ten patents related to the QuickTake camera, which was a cooperative project between the two companies. A judge ultimately ordered the Cupertino, Calif., company to halt current and future litigation so the bankruptcy proceedings could continue.

In November, sources claimed both Apple and Google remained interested in the patent cache, and Kodak said it was “confident” that the minimum woud be reached.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple exploring wireless charging, over-the-air electricity technology

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Date: Thursday, November 29th, 2012, 08:01
Category: News, Patents

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This could lead to something interesting.

Per FreePatentsOnline, a new patent application reveals Apple’s interest in a “realistic and practical approach” to wireless power, providing over-the-air electricity to low-power devices within a distance of one meter.

Apple’s interest in wireless charging technology was detailed in a new patent application published this week by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Entitled “Wireless Power Utilization in a Local Computing Environment,” it describes a system that would rely on “near-field magnetic resonance” to provide power to nearby devices.

Apple’s filing notes that transferring power wirelessly has historically been successful only in fairly limited applications. Specifically, the technology requires a power source and receiver located very close to each other.

This method may be acceptable for devices that require a very small amount of electricity. But Apple says this process is not acceptable for devices that require between a few watts to hundreds of watts.

However, Apple noted that electricity can be transferred from a power source to a receiver within a “near field,” or a distance a few times larger than both objects involved in the transfer. In most scenarios, this near field would be about a meter large.

“In this way, a realistic and practical approach to wireless transferring useable amounts of power over distances suitable for limited applications can be realized,” the filing reads.

By adopting wireless charging technology, Apple could minimize or eliminate what it referred to as “unwieldy” existing chargers that must be plugged into the wall.

Apple’s system goes one step further than the near field, and aims to improve efficiency when transferring electricity wirelessly. It would also allow a number of peripheral devices to be charged wirelessly within the near field, thanks to “cooperation” between them.

Apple’s charging accessory would be able to provide electricity to a number of devices located within the near field, or “virtual charging area.” Low-power devices cited by Apple include a mouse and keyboard.

The power supply transmitter could be a stand-alone device, or it could be embedded in an existing device such as a desktop or notebook computer. The transmitter could also be portable, such as a dongle that could be connected to a legacy device via a port like USB.

Peripheral devices would need to be tuned to the appropriate frequency. This would allow them to receive power from the near-field magnetic resonance (or NFMR) power supply.

“The device being brought into the range of the NFMR power supply can communicate its initial presence using a standard communication protocol such as WiFi or Bluetooth,” the application reads. “However, once incorporated into the resonance circuit, the device can use a communication back channel.”

Apple’s application also describes the use of a “re-resonator” that would allow electricity to be wirelessly shared between multiple accessories. In one example, a Mac desktop may not be able to adequately provide power to a wireless mouse because of an obstacle interfering with the connection between the two devices.

“In this case, (the) keyboard can act as a re-resonator such that a portion of the power delivered to (the) keyboard from the NFMR power supply can be passed on by way of a re-resonator transmission unit,” the filing states.

Apple’s patent filing for a wireless charging system, published this week by the USPTO, was first filed by the company in November of 2010. The proposed invention is credited to Michael F. Culbert, Brett. C. Bilbrey, David I. Simon, and Peter M. Arnold.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple looking into quieter “vibrate” function for future iPhone handsets

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Date: Thursday, November 15th, 2012, 07:05
Category: iPhone, News, Patents

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Your iPhone might get a bit quieter soon.

Per the United States Patent and Trademark Office and AppleInsider, Apple is investigating ways to make the iPhone’s “silent mode” truly silent by monitoring audible sound levels generated by a phone’s vibrator and adjusting the mechanism if it becomes too loud.

Since the earliest days of portable telecommunications, devices like pagers incorporated a silent option to the standard beeping tones that alerted a user of an incoming message or, years later, cell phone call. The system is flawed, however, in that the so-called “silent mode” is not completely silent, especially when a device vibrates on a hard surface, causing a rattling noise often times more disruptive than a normal audible tone.

The current iPhone 5, with its aluminum uni-body construction, is another candidate that may be less than discreet in some circumstances. To remedy this longstanding problem, Apple has devised a method in which a phone’s vibrations, as well as the result of said vibrations, are monitored by microphones or movement sensors. If these sensors detect conditions that may cause an unwanted disturbance, a number of mitigation methods are initiated, including tuning the vibrator and introducing feedback signals to reduce reverberation.

Apple’s solution takes into account two types of haptic devices, or vibrators, commonly used in modern smartphones, both of which present separate problems. The usual rotating vibrator used in many devices has an eccentric weight attached to a spinning drive shaft, while an oscillating linear vibrator relies on magnetic force to drive a weight back and forth.

While the rotating motor is somewhat louder than its magnetically-driven cousin, it produces an arguably more violent vibration which can be an asset for those who wear thick pants or need a stronger alert. For reference, the CDMA version of the iPhone 4 and all versions of the iPhone 4S used a linear vibrator, while the iPhone 5 marks the return of the rotating system found in legacy models.

As described in the invention, movement, sound and visual sensors begin monitoring various attributes when a vibration alert is detected. The sensors can determine If the vibration is causing the phone to move or generate a noise louder than ambient noises in the surrounding environment.

Once a movement or sound threshold has been reached, the mitigation mechanisms kick in to modify the alert or stop it altogether. In some embodiments, the action of vibrator motor is adjusted. For a rotational vibrator, the frequency of the motor can be slowed, while the motion of a linear vibrator can be dampened by an electromagnetic force.

The patent application goes on to offer alternative alert methods that can be used when a vibrator is found to be disturbing, such as visual alerts or soft audio tones which are output at level deemed to be more quiet than the sound created by the phone’s vibrations.

Such mechanisms do not exist in the current iteration of Apple’s handset, though the technology may one day make its way to a future iPhone as an enhancement to the product line.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple patent shows interest in developing dual-function headphones

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Date: Thursday, November 8th, 2012, 08:28
Category: News, Patents

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This could get really interesting.

Per AppleInsider, a patent application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday shows that Apple presented an invention for a “dual-mode headphone” which can transform from a normal set of earbuds to a more robust speaker system.

First filed for in 2011, the proposed system incorporates the usual in-ear headphone arrangement with specialized position-sensing circuitry and a power amplifier, allowing a user to dynamically switch from personal listening mode to speaker mode.

From the application’s background:
“Users typically listen to content on their portable devices using headphones, although there are speakers available that can be connected to the portable devices to enable multiple users to listen in at the same time. This approach, however, may require a user to carry both a headphone and speakers, or may require the user to rely on speakers built into the device, which may not be as powerful or have as high a sound quality as external speakers.

In operation, the headphones can detect its position and output sound in “headphone mode,” where the amplifier is bypassed, or “speaker mode,” which passes the audio signal through said amplifier. To prevent a user from being harmed by inadvertently activating the speaker mode while wearing the headphones, a separate sensor can be employed to detect when the unit is near a user’s ears.

Any number of sensors can be implemented in the invention, including IR sensors, ambient light sensors, Hall effect sensors, and others. In one embodiment, a sensor that can detect contact with a user’s ears is integrated into the headphone to prevent hearing damage.

In addition to automatically detecting positioning, users can manually activate speaker mode with physical buttons. An articulating arm or other design component can also be used to prop the headphones up when in speaker mode. ”

Finally, one embodiment describes an implementation that allows the headphone to be used as an in-ear set as well as a speaker by positioning extra ports directed away from the user’s ears.

As with many patent applications, the fate of the dual-mode headphone remains uncertain, though Apple’s new EarPods illustrated the company is still researching new design techniques for its audio products.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple receives patent for “ionic wind generator”, may look to replace conventional fans in upcoming devices

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Date: Tuesday, November 6th, 2012, 08:10
Category: Hardware, News, Patents

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This could turn into something interesting.

And, hey, if it works…there might be fewer dust bunnies in your computing devices.

Per the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Apple on Tuesday a patent for a cooling system that blows ionized air through an electronic device, controlling its path by creating electromagnetic fields that can be dynamically adjusted to direct cooling where it’s needed most.

Apple’s U.S. Patent No. 8,305,728 for “Methods and apparatus for cooling electronic devices,” describes a system in which the direction of ionized air moving through a computing device is deflected by either an electric or magnetic field. Currently, mechanical fans pull in air and push it through predetermined physical paths within a computer, usually over passive heat exchangers, and out through an exhaust port.

Driving the air in Apple’s system is the ionic wind generator, basically a solid-state air mover based on “corona discharge–an electrical discharge near a charged conductor caused by the ionization of the surrounding air.” The system is comprised of a corona electrode, a collector electrode and a high voltage power supply. When voltage is applied to electrodes, an electric field is created and causes particles in the surrounding air to take on a charge, or become ionized. An electric field propels the charged particles toward the collector electrode, which collide with other neutral particles as they move to create to generate “bulk air movement.”

As the ionized air moves through the device, it can be deflected or redirected by a “deflection field generator,” which can be a magnet or electromagnet. The magnitude of deflection is governed by the Lorentz force, or force on a charged particle from an electromagnetic field, which can be varied by the deflection field generator.

By employing standard issue heat sensors, the ion wind pump and deflection field generator system can direct cooling air to high temperature areas like the CPU or GPU.

The system also solves another problem associated with always-on mechanical fans, the so-called “no slip” condition at the “surface and the mean free stream velocity at the outer reaches from the surface” of a component. When such a condition arises, it creates a boundary layer of air over a component, making heat transfer more difficult. By modulating the rate of deflection, or time in which air flow passes over a component, the system creates eddy currents and turbulent flows to disturb the boundary layer.

Finally, the ionized air exits the device through a vent that is in the path of the ionic pump’s normal air flow.

Interestingly, the invention notes that the system is not limited to large desktops and laptops, but in mobile devices such as cell phones and media players as well.

Although such ion wind pump technologies are used in specialized industrial and laboratory settings, a solution has not yet been presented in a consumer device. Apple has shown that it is actively looking to solve issues related to cooling internal components, including noise reduction as seen with the asymmetrical fans in both MacBook Pro with Retina display models, however it is unknown if the company will implement the solid state generator any time soon.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple receives patent for “always-on” low power geared towards mobile devices

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Date: Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012, 07:40
Category: Hardware, News, Patents

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This could lead to some interesting stuff.

Per the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Apple on Tuesday was granted a patent for a system in which the status of a portable device can be persistently displayed on-screen without having to turn on the display or primary backlight.

Apple notes that it may be necessary to check the status of a device, as many portable electronics simply shut off their displays when not in use as a method to conserve power. For example, an iPhone user has no way of knowing when their handset is on or off, or how much battery life is left, unless they turn on the main display.

While some solutions currently exist that display device status, they rely on technology that requires extra assembly and packaging, or takes away from the aesthetic appeal of the device.

In its U.S Patent No. 8,294,659 for a “Secondary backlight indicator for portable media devices,” Apple describes a system in which a low-power, location-specific backlight is used to illuminate certain areas on a device’s main display.

There are two modes covered in the invention, an “On” mode where the device’s primary backlight and display are activated, and an “Off” mode in which a secondary low-power backlight is activated when the primary backlight and display are deactivated.

Unlike other systems, the light is situated behind the primary backlight and display, and can be illuminated in sections. Instead of using cutouts in the device body, Apple’s patent calls for icon shapes to be removed from multiple transparent or semi-transparent layers of primary backlight’s system. When the low-power secondary backlight is turned on, the light emitted passes through the primary icon shaped regions of the primary backlight system’s layers to the cover glass, but are blocked by color filters that hold a plurality of icon shapes.

In one embodiment, the icons can change shape and size when needed, a good example being a battery life indicator:

“To vary the shape or size of each indicator, the shape and size of the color filters may be varied rather than the shape and size of the transparent or semitransparent regions of the primary backlight system. For example, color filters of different shapes and with different properties may be superimposed on each other. Thus, the shape of an icon on the display may depend on the color of light provided by the secondary backlight. This technique may also be used for icons that are displayed side-by-side.”

The icons can also be dynamic, creating a blinking effect by pulsing the secondary backlight, which can in turn save power.

Apple’s invention allows for multiple icons to displayed on the device at any given location, with the secondary backlight selectively guiding light toward “certain regions of the primary backlight such that only selected icons are shown on the display.”

It remains unclear if Apple will use the technology in an upcoming product, however space is already at a premium in the iPhone 5, making the addition of such a system questionable.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

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.

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.

Two new patents show Apple looking into “shake to print” technology for iOS devices

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Date: Friday, October 5th, 2012, 07:02
Category: News, Patents, Software

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This could lead to something interesting.

Per FreePatentsOnline and AppleInsider, a pair of new patent filings reveal a concept from Apple that would allow users to select custom settings for printing by moving or interacting with an iPhone or iPad in unique ways.

The patents, entitled Systems and Methods for Defining Print Settings Using Device Movements, and Systems and Methods for Defining Print Settings Using an Input Interface, respectively, describe a system in which a user could shake their iPhone back and forth to enable a print settings mode. In another implementation, a user could shake their iPad to cancel a print job.

Apple already has a system-wide “Shake to Undo” feature in iOS that uses a device’s built-in accelerometer. The company also offers “Shake to Shuffle” when playing music.

With Apple’s new concept, users could also change settings — such as print orientation — by rotating or moving an iOS device. For example, viewing a photo in portrait mode could then send the picture to a printer with the same layout.

The patent application also goes beyond motion and orientation of the device, and presents new ways that users could interact with an iPad to select printer settings. One illustration shows how users could select a range of pages to print from a document, while a template selector would show a user how their content would appear on various paper sizes.

When viewing multiple pages of a document at once on a touchscreen device, a user could also use their finger to draw across the pages and signify an order in which the pages should be printed.

The applications, made public this week, were first filed with the USPTO in March of 2011. The proposed inventions are credited to Howard A. Miller, David Gelphman, and Richard Blanchard Jr.