Apple exploring wireless headphone technology for “active” users

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Date: Thursday, October 4th, 2012, 07:22
Category: Hardware, News, Patents

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The wireless headphones you’ve been dreaming of…they could be en route.

And if wireless headphones are the biggest concern in your life, that’s saying something.

Per the United States Patent and Trademark Office, a patent application published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday reveals Apple is investigating a unique set of headphones, designed to withstand the rigors of athletic activity by eliminating the need for cumbersome cords.

The invention, titled “Detachable wireless listening device,” describes headphones designed to free listeners from the burden of wires by leveraging wireless transmission technology, such as Bluetooth.

Apple notes that, while inexpensive and efficient, common wired headsets like earbuds are “susceptible to becoming entangled while the end user is participating in physical activity.” The situation can be “particularly nettlesome” since the cord is somewhat firmly affixed to the portable media player by a 3.5mm plug, which can be a potential hazard to both the device and its user.

To solve the ever-present trouble of wired connections, Apple suggests a type of hybrid system that can receive audio data through a cable as with traditional earbuds, but can also be detached from the device and operate wirelessly when needed.

The clever “listening device” is connected to the player by either a physical clip or detent, or a series of magnets. When attached, the headphones are able to use the cord as an RF antenna with data being processed by the host device, and a means of power for charging a set of built-in batteries. While connected, the headphones receive audio signals through the cable and are able to tap into the media player’s power supply if needed, thus saving precious energy for untethered use.

If the headphones becomes detached, either by the user or unintentionally, the host device seamlessly pauses the charging process, activates a wireless module and begins to send audio over Bluetooth of some other form of radio communication. The patent notes that stereo audio can be provided to the wireless headset by assigning each side, right and left, a unique wireless address.

Apple cofounder Steve Jobs famously said in 2005 that Bluetooth was simply not suitable for headphones because the bandwidth was too low for high quality sound reproduction, and people are loathe to charge both an iPod or iPhone as well as a peripheral.

That was arguably true seven years ago, however the advent of low-power Bluetooth 4.0 components, combined with Thursday’s unique hybrid headphone invention, could one day lead to the level of technology Jobs was waiting for.

The “listening device” patent was filed in March 2011 with Jorge S. Fino credited as its inventor.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple files patent for inductive charging pad that could also offer device syncing features

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Date: Thursday, September 27th, 2012, 06:02
Category: Hardware, iPhone, iPod, Patents

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It’s not the newest peripheral idea in the world, but it’s still sort of nifty.

Per FreePatentsOnline.com, Apple has shown interest in building an inductive charging mat that would allow users to dock, charge and sync their portable devices by simply placing them on top of the accessory.

Apple’s filing, entitled “Device Orientation Based Docking Functions,” describes a “docking device” that would allow devices to be placed on top of it.

The mat would accomplish docking functions such as charging, data transfer, syncing, diagnostic checking, or any other potential use based on the physical orientation of the user device on the surface.

The filing notes that smartphones, like the iPhone, as well as digital cameras and media players like iPods can all be built to utilize inductive charging surfaces. Circuitry in these devices would respond to a magnetic field provided by the charging surface that would also allow data to be transferred while the device is docked.

While inductive charging surfaces are not new technology, Apple’s application brings a new twist to the concept with the idea of interpreting the device’s orientation for specific purposes. For example, a future iPhone with inductive charging capabilities could be placed face down on the mat for charging only, while placing the handset face-up on the mat could initiate syncing with a computer or iCloud as well as charging.

Once a device is placed on the mat, its current docking mode may be indicated to the user by either a sound, a graphic displayed on the device’s screen, an electronic message notification, or a vibration of the device.

Beyond a local computer for syncing, the inductive charging mat could also be connected to a host of devices throughout a person’s home. In one example, the mat is connected to speakers for audio output when docked.

Apple’s proposed invention was first filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in March of 2011. It is credited to Jorge S. Fino.

When the iPhone 5 was announced earlier this month, Apple’s marketing chief Phil Schiller was asked why the new handset does not include inductive charging capabilities. He said the perceived convenience of such technology is questionable, as charging mats must still be plugged into an outlet.

“Having to create another device you have to plug into the wall is actually, for most situations, more complicated,” he explained.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple awarded carbon fiber manufacturing patent, could make future MacBooks lighter, more shock resistant

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Date: Tuesday, September 4th, 2012, 07:06
Category: Hardware, MacBook, MacBook Pro, Patents

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The way your new MacBook notebook is manufactured is about to change.

Per the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Apple on Tuesday was granted a patent for a carbon fiber molding process that could one day be used to produce parts made from the lightweight material, like laptop casings or mobile device chassis.

The patent, number 8,257,075, for a “Carbon composite mold design” describes the systems and methods needed to manufacture “aesthetically pleasing” parts from carbon fiber and other resin based composites.

While the applications of carbon fiber composite materials are many, Apple specifically notes that the invention can be used to “form outer housings for a laptop computer or other similar device.” The patent may prove useful as an increasing consumer demand has pushed the industry toward slim and sleek portables with relatively heavy large screens. For example, the weight of the much-rumored next-generation iPhone’s expected 4-inch screen could be offset by a carbon fiber monocoque.

It seems that the invention is aimed at larger devices like Apple’s MacBook line, however, much like Sony’s carbon fiber Vaio Z thin-and-light series.

The patent is described as follows:
“As but one example, it would be particularly helpful if portable electronic device housings and components could be stronger and more durable than what is now typically provided in plastic parts that are formed via ordinary plastic injection molding processes. In particular, it would be beneficial if laptops, notebook computers, and other relatively large and heavy portable computing devices could have outer housings that are better able to protect the entire device from drops and other mechanical shocks.”

The patent notes that traditional resin-based composites are made by layering resin-impregnated sheets of into or over a mold, which then cures under increased heat and pressure. Removal of the part can prove a hassle as the resins stick to the mold surfaces, which often requires manual prying and peeling from an operator. As a result, surface blemishes and other defects often occur.

Apple’s proposed method looks to enable the mass-production of carbon fiber parts that have a consistent visual appearance by streamlining the manufacturing process.

The invention calls for a two-part mold, one a cavity and another portion “adapted to mate with the first,” allowing composite parts to be formed in between. After curing, ejector pins located on one or both of the mold portions are used to separate the material from the mold body.

In another embodiment, a mold can have one or more internal fluid lines to help with cooling, a permanent release coating, and guide pins to accurately align the fiber sheets. Either a fluid or gas-actuated ejection system can also be employed for easy removal of the cured parts.

While Apple has shown no signs of using the advanced carbon fiber molding techniques in any future devices, the company may very well choose to do so in its push toward lighter and stronger products.

So, if nothing else, your future MacBook could become lighter, stronger and perhaps shoot lasers at those who oppose you.

Which is never a bad thing.

Apple patent allows potential automatic skipping of commercials for radio, television devices

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Date: Tuesday, August 21st, 2012, 06:23
Category: News, Patents

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This could be interesting.

Per the United States Patent and Trademark Office, Apple on Tuesday was granted a patent that allows users to skip unwanted audio and video broadcast segments such as commercials with on-device content like songs, podcasts or other media, possibly hinting at technology headed to the battle for the living room.

Apple’s aptly titled U.S. Patent No. 8,249,497 for “Seamless switching between radio and local media” describes a system in which a mobile device will automatically switch between broadcast content and stored media to offer the user a type of customized content consumption experience.

With the new patent, a device will allow a user listening to content from a radio station or “non-radio media or content sources” to skip past the sections they aren’t interested in, filling the gap with on-board media instead. Also of interest is that commercials are among the types of content which can be replaced by stored media.

Covered under the invention’s umbrella are broadcasts from a “radio stream provided over any communications network,” while the stored media can include content saved in a device’s memory or from a streaming host device.

From the patent background:
“A user, however, may not be interested in every media item provided as part of a broadcast stream. For example, a user may not like a particular song broadcast by a radio station, or may not like a particular segment of a talk radio station (e.g., the user does not like the topic or guest of the segment). As another example, a user may not be interested in content originally generated by sources other than the media source (e.g., advertisement content). Because the user has no control over the media broadcast, the user can typically only tune to a different media broadcast, or listen to or consume the broadcast content that is not of interest.”

By using metadata from assets like Radio Data System (RDS) data, broadcast listings or published third-party schedules, a device can “determine when an upcoming broadcast segment or media item is not of interest to the user.” When such an event is detected, the device will seamlessly switch to stored media until the unwanted content is completed. Also included as methods of discerning what a user may or may not want to consume are analysis of audio or video from the source, akin to current iOS apps Shazam or IntoNow.

As far as calculating what a user likes or dislikes, the patent employs comparisons of media items to generate a preference profile, much like the system in place with apps like Pandora. For example, a user can “like” or “dislike” a song and the corresponding metadata will then be included in their preference profile. In another embodiment, the device can keep track of a user’s content consumption habits and make guesses as to what they would like in their preference profile. The metadata can be specific media items, such as artists, songs and genres, as well as specific types of media.

After the system identifies that an upcoming segment is outside of the preference profile’s parameters, the device can look for an appropriate replacement from stored media to play instead. The patent notes that a “relevance algorithm” can be used to keep the stored media in line with content from the broadcast stream. To keep the experience consistent, the device can either monitor the broadcast stream to choose an opportune time to switch away from stored media playback, or buffer the broadcast stream for later consumption.

Seemingly, Apple is proposing a way to not only transform radio listening, but also television broadcasts. While not specifically noted in the patent and mentioned here only for purposes of discussion, the system could be tweaked for cable which would lend itself nicely to the set-top box Apple is rumored to be shopping around to U.S. providers. Insiders say the cloud-based device is meant to blur the line between live and on-demand television.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Recent Apple patent shows iPad Smart Cover with embedded display built in

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Date: Friday, August 3rd, 2012, 06:30
Category: Accessory, iPod, Patents

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This is kind of interesting.

Per the United States Patent Trademark Office, Apple has applied for a patent in which a Smart Cover unit would take power from a connector on the side of the iPad to drive a flexible display in one of the cover segments for adding extra icons, controlling media playback, or displaying notifications.

The unit would show the entire surface of the cover being used as a keyboard, while another turns it into a drawing digitizer.



Not to say that this is a guarantee as to the future of the iPad’s Smart Cover, but it could be a cool idea.

Let us know what you think in the comments and welcome to Friday.

Apple receives NFC-driven “iTravel” patent

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Date: Tuesday, July 10th, 2012, 08:49
Category: iPhone, News, Patents

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This could be interesting.

Per Free Patents Online, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday officially awarded Apple ownership of its “iTravel” concept for e-ticketing with an NFC-equipped iPhone.

U.S. Patent No. 8,215,546, entitled “System and Method for Transportation Check-In,” was granted to Apple this week. First filed with the USPTO in 2008, the invention describes a system for ticketing and identification via near-field communications on a portable device like an iPhone.

“The handheld device may store and transmit travel reservations and traveler identifications using a travel management application,” the patent reads. “Various methods may be employed to acquire the reservation and identification information on the handheld device.”

In one example, users can make travel reservations via the so-called “iTravel” application. Similar data can also be automatically retrieved from an e-mail, a website, another NFC-enabled device, or a carrier-provided confirmation number.

The system could also identify a user by scanning a radio frequency identification tag embedded in a government-issued ID, like a passport. An ID number can also be entered via the travel management application, prompting the “iTravel” application to download the user’s identification information from the issuing authority.

Illustrations that accompany the patent show an iPhone equipped with a near-field communications chip. The iTravel application is depicted with an icon of an airplane on the iOS home screen.

The iTravel concept is a more full-featured implementation of Apple’s new Passbook application, which will be part of iOS 6 when it launches this fall. Unveiled in June, Passbook organizes various items like movie or sporting event tickets, store membership cards, and airplane boarding passes.

Passbook will feature geolocation with the iPhone, allowing users to automatically have the appropriate card pulled up when they visit a specific location. For example, when a user goes to Starbucks, they will see their membership card available to scan.

The unveiling of Passbook has prompted speculation that Apple plans to add a near-field communications chip to its anticipated sixth-generation iPhone, expected to debut this fall. With wireless NFC capabilities, Apple’s next iPhone could serve as an e-wallet and e-ticketing device.

Apple has been rumored for years to include NFC technology in a future iPhone, but to date no iPhone models have included an integrated NFC chip. Competing handsets, like Google’s Nexus S, have included NFC chips, but e-wallet payments have yet to take off with services like Google Wallet.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple looking into technologies to help improve iOS device typing speed/autocorrect

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Date: Thursday, June 28th, 2012, 06:47
Category: News, Patents, Software

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This could be useful.

Per AppleInsider, a trio of patent applications published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and discovered on Thursday show that Apple is looking into automatic typing and spelling correction, while a third application could indirectly relate to the feature.

Timing and Geometry:
Application No. 12/976834, titled “Combining timing and geometry information for typing correction,” describes a process for using keystroke geometry and timing to better detect a user’s intended input.

In one embodiment of the invention, a string of typed characters is timestamped and can be analyzed by a process for use in either autocorrection or autocompletion. The invention also suggests that “baseline typing speed data” could be gathered in order to determine whether double strikes, transpositions or other errors have occurred.

“For example, if the string “theere” is entered and the time between the keystrokes “ee” is less than an associated baseline by more than a threshold amount, the replacement candidate “there” may be assigned a higher score,” the application read.

Apple’s invention could start with a pre-determined typing speed that would be monitored and adjusted in case users type slower or faster than a “typical” user.

The system would also take into account the location of letters on the keyboard and the geometry of the typed words in order to catch mistakes.

“For example, a word that is similar to the typed text except for one or more errors associated potentially with keyboard geometry, such as differing by a letter where the correct letter is located adjacent to the typed incorrect letter on the keyboard, may be suggested,” Apple wrote.

Douglas Davidson and Karan Misra are named as the inventors of the patent, which Apple filed for in late 2010.

Parts of Speech:
A second autocorrect-related patent application (No. 12/976849) is entitled “Using parts-of-speech tagging and named entity recognition for spelling correction.” The proposed process involves understanding the context surrounding typed words in order to tag their parts of speech and identify named entities, such as differentiating between the company “Apple” and reference to the fruit.

The technical details for Apple’s invention are relatively advanced, as they involve a “statistical language model.” That process would involve parsing words, phrases and sentences and would make use of clues like capitalization, suffixes and prefixes and other “contextual features.”

Apple filed for the patent in December 2010. Brent Ramerth, Douglas Davidson and Jennifer Moore are listed as its inventors.

Contextual Lookup:
Apple’s application for “Using statistical language models for contextual lookup” (No. 12/976864), closely resembles the aforementioned parts-of-speech tagging application, but it describes a system for applying language processing to search queries.

According to the invention, a process for analyzing parts of speech could help make searching documents or the Internet more efficient. In its filing, Apple provided examples of phrases and words that could be interpreted different ways and would benefit from a process for forming specific and targeted searches.

Autocorrect Lawsuit:
Apple has put some of its autocorrect-related patents to work in its legal complaint against rival handset maker Samsung. In February, the compiled asserted a patent for a “Method, system, and graphical user interface for providing word recommendations” against the South Korean company.

Autocorrect on the iPhone has also entered popular culture by giving rise to several Websites documenting humorous or embarrassing instances of the feature, such as Damn You Auto Correct! and Autocorrect Fail.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Recent patent application shows Apple’s interest in improving brightness controls on OLED screens

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Date: Thursday, April 26th, 2012, 06:00
Category: News, Patents

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It’s the patent applications that show where things might be going.

Per Free Patents Online, Apple has apparently proposed a way of improving brightness control on organic light emitting diode displays.

One of the key advantages of OLED is that, unlike LCD, it does not employ a backlight to illuminate the screen. While this can lead to superior picture quality and improved battery life, it can also make adjusting the brightness of the screen more difficult, Apple notes in a newly published patent application.

The filing, entitled “OLED Driving Technique,” explains that traditional LCD brightness is adjusted by simply increasing or decreasing the amount of light emitted by a backlight. But that’s not possible with an OLED display, as each pixel on an OLED screen emits light individually.

That means device makers must adjust the amount of power supplied to each OLED pixel, making it a far more complex endeavor to adjust brightness than an LCD display with a dedicated backlight.

“While increasing or decreasing the amount of power may increase or decrease the amount of light emitted by each OLED, the precise amount of light emitted by each OLED may vary according to nonlinear function,” Apple’s filing reads. “As such, many techniques for adjusting the brightness of OLED screens have conventionally involved performing complex calculations on image data to ensure that when a brightness-adjusted image id displayed on the OLED display, each pixel displays a proper color and brightness.”

In other words, the amount of light output by an individual OLED pixel varies nonlinearly with the amount of power supplied to the OLED pixel. As a result, increasing or decreasing the brightness does not directly correlate to simply increasing or decreasing the power supplied to each pixel.

Apple goes on to explain that dimming values must be extracted from image data on a system, and that data must then be converted to an analog OLED pixel brightness control signal. This complex method can consume system resources and reduce battery life, and it may also be incompatible with existing LCD brightness control mechanisms, requiring major changes to software that already drives LCD screens.

Apple’s proposed solutions aim to offer “efficient brightness control” with OLED screens. One described method would take image data and transform it into a “logarithmic domain,” from which a “dimming control value” could be subtracted.

“This resulting log-encoded dimmed image data may represent a darker version of the originally received image data,” the filing reads. “Thereafter, a pixel of the organic light emitting diode display may be driven based at least in part on the dimmed image data.”

In Apple’s method, image data could be converted in the data driver of an integrated circuit connected to the OLED screen. This data would be converted from a “framebuffer encoding” gamma-corrected color space to a logarithmic value.

“From this logarithmic value, a digital dimming control value may be subtracted rather than divided,” the filing states. “This dimmed logarithmic image data may be converted directly to an analog OLED pixel brightness control signal, without first being converted to a linear digital value, via a digital-to-analog converter (DAC) programmed to convert the logarithmic digital image data to the OLED pixel brightness control signal.”

Apple’s solution would enable simplified dimming of OLED, and would convert the data associated with adjusting brightness from digital to analog. But Apple’s method would do so with fewer bits, and would be less taxing on a mobile device like an iPhone, iPad, or MacBook.

The illustrations accompanying the application specifically show a MacBook Pro as a potential device that could utilize an OLED screen, although the filing notes that Apple’s method of controlling OLED brightness could be used on any device, from smartphones to television sets.

Apple has shown continued interest in OLED screens through patent filings, with one proposed invention last year that aimed to improve power efficiency of OLED screens. However, some industry watchers have said that OLED technology, and the production of OLED screens, are not yet mature enough to meet Apple’s standards and requirements.

The latest OLED filing, published this week by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, was originally submitted in October of 2010. It is credited to Ulrich T. Barnhoefer and Lee Yongman.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple patent describes effort to create smoother, “unibody” earbuds through ultrasonic bonding process

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Date: Friday, April 13th, 2012, 07:58
Category: Hardware, Patents

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Your Apple earbuds, they could get better through an ultrasonic bonding process.

Per FreePatentsOnline, a new patent application entitled “Ultrasonically Welded Structures and Methods for Making the Same,” describes how different components could be welded together for a seamless look for the Apple earbuds.

Apple describes the new headphones as having an appearance that they were constructed as “a seamless unibody structure,” even though the earbuds may include two different component pieces welded together.

Combining two different elements in this way may form a weld ring that can be cut, sanded, polished and cleaned. This allows the headphone to appear to be one piece, even though it may actually be a number of connected pieces.

Apple’s desire to build a better set of earbuds was also detailed in a separate application published this week, entitled “Curved Plastic Object and Systems and Methods for Deburring the Same.” It describes building curved plastic objects in the shape of a cap or grill of a headphone or earbud.

The filing notes that holes are needed in earbuds to allow sound to travel, but the creation of those holes can result in remnants in or around them that degrade both the appearance of the device and the acoustic properties of the headphones.

The solution presented in that application is a tool for “deburring” a curved plastic object. The tool could be coated in an abrasive material and would conform to the shape of the curved object, then polish it by vibrating while in contact with the plastic surface.

Both the inner and outer surfaces would be both “deburred” and polished, ensuring that no remnants remain in the holes or on any surface of the headphones.

The ultrasonic welding patent application is credited to Jeff Hayashida, Jonathan Aase, Rico Zorkendorfer, and Evans M. Hankey. Both Hayashida and Aase are also credited with the curved plastic patent application.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple patent hints at 3D photography on iOS devices

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Date: Friday, March 30th, 2012, 06:46
Category: iPad, iPhone, iPod, News, Patents

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Your iOS may one day shoot 3D pictures.

Which would be a cool thing.

According to a recently published application discovered by Patently Apple on Thursday, Apple may be looking into a way in which cameras in iOS-based devices would snap 3D images. According to the blog, which tracks all Apple patents and applications, the technology would utilize “depth-detection sensors,” like radar and lidar, and use the latest and greatest luminance sensors to recreate an image’s color as accurately as possible. By the time the picture is taken, it’ll deliver a full 3D image.

The fact that Apple is thinking about 3D implementation on the iPhone and iPad isn’t necessarily a surprise, given the importance the third dimension has taken on across the industry. At this point, it’s hard to find a television that doesn’t come with 3D support. And across the mobile space, more and more companies are starting to integrate 3D features.

For years now, it’s been believed that Apple would bring some sort of 3D integration to the iPhone and iPad, but there hasn’t really been much talk of the camera on the devices handling the task.

Apple’s patent application, however, takes things further than just snapping an image. According to the patent, the technology can scan an object and create a 3D model on the device. It could also come with facial-gesture recognition that can detect smiling, grimacing, and frowning.

It’s just a patent application for the time being, but it could lead to something cool.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.