Apple patent shows interest in adjusting on-screen brightness according to content being shown

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Date: Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013, 06:00
Category: News, Patents

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This could lead to some interesting stuff.

Per the United States Patent and Trademark Office, a patent discovered on Tuesday outlines a system in which displays like the iPhone and iPad’s Retina panels are automatically dimmed based on what type of content is showing on screen, allowing for portable devices to conserve energy.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office awarded Apple’s patent No. 8,358,273 for a “Portable media device with power-managed display,” which describes a unique method of adjusting the intensity (brightness) of a device’s screen depending on what is being displayed.

Other techniques like photosensor-based display controls have been in use for years, but Apple’s method goes further by managing display brightness based on the monitoring of actual content. Currently, devices may auto-dim in dark-lit rooms or when they haven’t been used for a set amount of time. With the ’273 patent, both the type and characteristics of displayed content is taken into consideration, allowing for further refinement of auto-dimming procedures that could translate to power savings.

The method relies on identifying the type of content being displayed and setting an output intensity for the display device based on either a predetermined configuration or a set of user preferences. Content types are described as images, photos or video, among others.

After determining what type of content is on a device’s screen, the system then takes into account the characteristics of said content. For example, if a light image is being displayed, the brightness may be lowered. This process becomes more complex for video content, which must be monitored frame by frame and weighted by metrics like contrast, darkness, lightness and color. In some embodiments, the system may sample at stepped intervals like every 10 frames to keep brightness consistent throughout viewing.

The management system offers users more control over screen auto-dimming by allowing a set of preferences to override automatic controls. An example user-configurable setting could be “Brightness Mode,” which would act much like a modern HDTV to provide levels of brightness referenced by the control module.

It is unclear how much processing power the system would require, though there are various embodiments that leverage software, hardware or a combination of the two to achieve the desired results.

The patent is credited to Andrew Bert Hodge, Guy Bar-Nahum, Shawn R. Gettemy and David John Tupman.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple patent shows e-wallet program with controllable accounts for children

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Date: Friday, January 18th, 2013, 08:28
Category: iOS, News, Patents, Software

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This could be useful.

Per FreePatentsOnline, a recent patent application shows Apple’s idea for an “e-wallet” iPhone application that would allow subsidiary accounts for children, complete with customizable spending limits and restrictions.

Apple’s interest in the concept was revealed in a patent application published Thursday by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office entitled “Parental Controls.” It describes ways that a user could establish rules for subsidiary financial accounts.

The proposed invention shows a hypothetical application on the iPhone home screen named “E-Wallet.” The software allows users to have a primary account tied to a credit card, allowing transactions to be conducted with an iPhone.

The key feature of the filing are the E-Wallet subsidiary accounts. By creating one, the user can allow new users, such as children, to have access to the E-Wallet app with controlled spending limits.

The customizable rules would allow a parent to set, for example, a weekly or monthly allowance for their children. The application would also enable parents to decline transactions if they are over a certain amount of money.

Parents could also restrict transactions from certain merchant categories, or even block sales to a specific merchant or location. In one example, the application is set to prevent the user from purchasing alcohol or tobacco with Apple’s iPhone e-wallet.

Illustrations included in Apple’s patent filing show that the concept for the E-Wallet application would include purchase history, bill summary, and the ability to search for specific transactions. The E-Wallet app would be driven by users’ existing credit cards, with numbers entered into the software to link them together.

The filing goes on to note that a future iPhone could have an integrated near-field communication chip to supplement the E-Wallet app. It notes that communication using the NFC component would occur in a range of 2 to 4 centimeters.

The proposed invention, published by the USPTO this week, is a continuation of a filing first made by Apple in January of 2009, and issued as U.S. Patent No. 8,127,982 in March of 2012. It is credited to Brandon J. Casey, Gary L. Wipfler, and Erik Cressall.

Not the worst idea in the world and please let us know what you think in the comments.

Patent reveals Apple’s exploration of emergency services app for iOS devices

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Date: Thursday, January 10th, 2013, 08:16
Category: iPhone, News, Patents

You’re never far from help with an iPhone in hand.

Per FreePatentsOnline, Apple has shown continued interest in offering easy access to local emergency services when traveling through the iPhone.

The concept is detailed in a patent continuation published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Entitled “Location-Based Emergency Information,” the proposed invention is credited in part to Scott Forstall, Apple’s former chief of iOS who was chased from the company late last year.

“When a person travels abroad, emergencies can occur,” the filing states. “For example, the person can become injured in an accident, be a victim of a crime, or lose their travel documents. In those situations, having knowledge of contact information for local emergency services or the pertinent consular services can be beneficial.”

Apple notes that the process of gathering local emergency service information before traveling can be time consuming, particularly if a person plans to stop in multiple cities or countries. It’s also likely that a traveler would neglect to gather this information entirely, potentially placing them in a bad situation.

To resolve this issue, Apple’s concept includes an “Emergency” Application for iOS that would give users quick access to local medical, police or fire assistance, based on the current location of their iPhone.

The information could allow users to quickly contact emergency authorities in foreign countries, where users may not know the proper emergency number. Or in the U.S., it might provide direct numbers for non-emergency calls to authorities, preventing unnecessary calls to 9-1-1.

In one illustration, the iPhone app is shown with a unique application “drawer” that Apple said could slide out when selected. This would allow users to then tap on which emergency response service they wish to contact.

In addition to Forstall, the application is also credited to inventors Gregory N. Christie, Robert E. Borchers, and Imran A. Chaudhri. The continuation filing, made in September of 2012, stems from a patent originally filed in June 2007, around the time that the first-generation iPhone went on sale in the U.S.

Apple patent highlights motion-controlled mouse idea for future Macs

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Date: Friday, December 28th, 2012, 06:15
Category: News, Patents

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This could lead to something interesting.

Per AppleInsider, a patent filing published on Thursday details an Apple invention pertaining to a computer input device that uses motion gestures, like tilting, brushing and tapping to manipulate a computer’s GUI.

Apple’s “Methods and apparatus for processing combinations of kinematical inputs” describes a system that translates a variety of force and velocity data detected by an input device into commands for a computer’s user interface, such as control of a mouse cursor.

The invention calls for an input device with one or more motion sensors to feed a receiving system adapted to convert gesture data into GUI navigation commands.

In order to achieve precise calculations, the input device can use a number of motion sensors including one or more gyroscopes, optical sensors and accelerometers, among others. By taking force and vector data from the device, the receiving computer generates a “gesture profile” that is associated with a certain system command. For example, if a user slides the input device across a plane or object, a cursor will move in that direction.

Two gestures can be combined, for example below a sliding gesture is performed in conjunction with a tilt gesture, thus enabling a different UI command than would a simple lateral movement of the device.

The system is programmable, meaning different gestures can be assigned to various commands. A “nudge” gesture can equate to the waking of the input device when it is in sleep mode or moving a mouse cursor slightly in one direction. Tilting, tapping and other gravity-based gestures are supported by the system and can likewise reproduce any number of UI commands on a computer’s screen.

Gesture profiles can be multi-step operations. In the example below, the input device starts at the left at a speed of 0 meters per second. Once the start motion is detected, a minimum velocity must be reached in order to enable the gesture. When the magnitude of the force vector reaches zero, that is when the unit is lifted off the desk, the conditions satisfy the second gesture circumstance and the command is triggered.

It appears from the patent drawings that Apple could possibly incorporate the additional motion gesture control into an upcoming mouse. While just speculation, the iPhone and iPod lineups could also be used asinput devices as they carry integrated accelerometers, gyroscopes and imaging sensors. There are existing apps in the iOS ecosystem that “transform” iDevices into usable input peripherals, like R.P.A.Tech’s Mobile Mouse, but Apple may one day use the invention’s technology to offer a built-in first-party solution.

Apple’s patent application was first filed in April and credited Jean L. Lee is credited as its inventor.

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.