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.

Recently-released Apple patent discusses touch-based screen featuring haptic feedback

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Date: Friday, March 23rd, 2012, 06:13
Category: News, Patents

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When in doubt, make your touchscreens better.

Per FreePatentsOnline.com, in an effort to make touchscreens less static, Apple has proposed that future iPhones and iPads could feature actuators that would provide haptic feedback to users, and also include sensors that would measure the force at which a user touches the screen.

The concept was unveiled this week in a patent application entitled “Touch-Based User Interface with Haptic Feedback.” The use of actuators underneath a touchscreen could allow users to actually feel elements on the screen, such as buttons or controls.

The timing of the application being made public by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is interesting because one rumor from earlier this month incorrectly suggested Apple would introduce new haptic feedback technology in its third-generation iPad. That rumor was based on technology from the company Senseg, which creates an electric field on the surface of a touchscreen, allowing users to feel complex, context-sensitive textures, such as making a surface feel smooth or rough to the touch.

The concept described in Apple’s new patent application is quite different, relying on actuators to physically provide haptic feedback on a touchscreen, rather than giving sensations through an electric field. But it demonstrates Apple’s continued pursuit of providing users with some sort of physical feedback when using a touchscreen device.

“The user can typically only feel the rigid surface of the touch screen, making it difficult to find icons, hyperlinks, textboxes, or other user-selectable elements that are being displayed,” Apple’s filing reads. “A touch-based user interface may help a user navigate content displayed on the display screen by incorporating haptic feedback.”

Rather than simply vibrating the device when a button is tapped, as some touchscreen devices do, Apple’s solution could utilize piezoelectric actuators for “localized haptic feedback.” This would allow the user to feel a virtual button on their fingertips.

Specifically named as products that could benefit from haptic feedback in the application are the iPhone and iPad, as well as the Magic Mouse and Apple’s notebook trackpads.

The application describes a touchscreen with a “haptic feedback layer” that could include piezoelectric actuators aligned in a grid pattern. These actuators could be located below an external protective layer that the user would touch to interact with the device, or the haptic layer itself could be the outermost layer.

The actuators could be used to replace the mechanical “click” of a mouse, or would allow users to “feel” selectable buttons or icons displayed on a touchscreen device.

Another element described in the application is the use of “force sensors” in a touchscreen device. With these, an iPhone or iPad could determine how much force a user is applying to the touch-based user interface, and respond to just how hard the user is tapping the screen.

To allow this, the outer screen of the device would “flex minimally,” but enough that the force sensors would be able to detect any pushing or squeezing of the device by the user.

The application, made public this week, was first filed by Apple in September of 2010. The proposed invention is credited to Paul G. Puskarich and Michael Pilliod.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple patent shows effort to develop thinner keyboards

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Date: Thursday, February 23rd, 2012, 07:51
Category: News, Patents

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Remember your Apple keyboard?

It might just be about to go through a training montage and get thinner in the process.

Per Free Patents Online, Apple may be looking to make its notebook computers and keyboard accessories even thinner and lighter with a brand new take on the classic input method.

Apple’s interest in reinventing the keyboard was revealed in a new patent application entitled “Single Support Lever Keyboard Mechanism,” it describes a handful of ways that a keyboard could be shrunk in size without affecting its performance.

In the filing, Apple notes that the size of existing keyboards presents a challenge for the company as it attempts to design thinner, lighter and more attractive devices.

“It would be beneficial to provide a keyboard for a portable computing device that is aesthetically pleasing, yet still provides the stability for each key that users desire,” the application reads. “It would also be beneficial to provide methods for manufacturing the keyboard having an especially aesthetic design as well as functionality for the portable computing device.”

One of the most common keyboard types is the “dome switch,” in which the key pushes down on a rubber dome located beneath the key. Other types of keyboards include capacitive, mechanical switch, Hall-effect, membrane, and roll-up, and each offer their own strengths and weaknesses in terms of two important categories: response (positive feedback that the key has been pressed) and travel (the distance needed to push the key).

Apple’s solution is a single support lever keyboard mechanism, which the proposed invention says would allow the keyboard cap to be formed of almost any material, but would also provide stability to each key.

The application notes that the material chosen for the key caps is very important, not only for the appearance of the keyboard but also how it feels on users’ fingers. The application includes a number of potential off-the-wall materials that could be used, like glass, wood, stone, and even “polished meteorite.”

Regardless of the material, Apple’s keyboard key caps would be held in place by a rigid support lever. With its design, the keys could have a total travel range of as little as 0.2 millimeters.

In another method, Apple describes a support lever holding the key cap that would be made of a flexible material. This support lever could be made of spring steel that could allow good tactile feedback to the user when they are typing.

The key cap and support lever would have an “elastomeric spacer” between them and a metal dome positioned below. The spacer would be made of a material such as rubber or silicone that would “provide a desirable and distinctive feel to the user when pressed,” in addition to reducing rattling on the keyboard.

“The advantages of the invention are numerous,” the filing states, adding: “One advantage of the invention is that a low-travel keyboard may be provided for a thin-profile computing device without compromising the tactile feel of the keyboard.”

The filing, made public this week by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, was first filed by Apple in August of 2010. It is credited to Patrick Kessier, Bradley Hamel, and James J. Niu.

Cool stuff if it happens and stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple universal remote patent points towards upcoming television set

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Date: Thursday, January 26th, 2012, 05:26
Category: News, Patents

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It’s the patent applications that provide the niftiest hints.

Per Free Patents Online, Apple has shown interest in building a new, simplified remote control that would automatically control a variety of devices while reducing setup and frustration for the user.

The concept was revealed this week in a new patent application entitled “Apparatus and Method to Facilitate Universal Remote Control,” it describes a touchscreen-based controller that would reduce the confusing clutter found on current universal remotes.

The filing notes that current remotes have a large number of buttons and switches to control the functions of a device, and while those buttons are necessary to control all of the functions, the average user typically only uses a handful of the buttons.

“The controls that are not normally used clutter the remote control and can cause confusion to the user when trying to locate a seldom-used feature,” the filing notes.

It also details how current universal remotes are even more complex to operate than the basic remotes that ship with specific devices, like a television set or receiver. And often times, those universal remotes cannot replicate some of the tasks found on the original remote.

“Hence, users must spend time learning a new remote control or programming an existing universal remote each time they purchase a new remotely controllable appliance, which detracts from the enjoyment of using the appliance after it is first purchased,” Apple’s application states. “What is needed is an apparatus and a method to provide remote control over multiple appliances without the difficulties described above.”

Apple’s proposed solution is a remote control with a dynamic touchscreen used for input. The remote would include a “discovery mechanism” that would discover available appliances for it to control, negating the need for users to enter complex codes and program individual devices.

The filing describes a remote controlling one or more of a television, video players, a stereo, a “smart home” control system, and even a Mac. The document notes that the controller could also be used beyond electronic appliances, and could control programs and functions on a computer, like allowing a user to play songs on iTunes on their Mac or PC.

Apple’s solution would simplify the user interface by having devices wirelessly transmit a specific interface for that device. The remote would receive this customized button layout, and dynamically present input options to the user without the clutter of a typical button-based universal remote.

The remote would also detect which appliances are within range of the controller. If, for example, a specific appliance could not be detected, the remote would gray that option out so the user would know it is not available.

The proposed invention, made public this week by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, was first filed in September of 2011. It is credited to Albert Vidal.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple patent describes using 3D interface for iPhone

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Date: Friday, January 13th, 2012, 08:57
Category: iPhone, News, Patents

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This could definitely qualify as “nifty”.

Per AppleInsider, an Apple patent filing submitted in July of 2010 and made public this week by the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), details a new iPhone interface concept in which the user relies on motion controls to interact with a 3D environment. However, this is not 3D in the sense of images springing off the screen; the patent filing refers to it as 3D images built with polygons.

According to the patent application, the interface “uses orientation data from onboard sensors, like a gyroscope and compass, to navigate the system.” A picture accompanying the patent filing shows a virtual room that the user could look around in by moving their device; a “snap to” feature would allow the user to automatically switch to a specific view through a preset action, such as shaking the iPhone.

Cool stuff if it comes to fruition.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple patent towards HDTV design with additional backlighting features

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Date: Thursday, January 5th, 2012, 08:51
Category: News, Patents

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This could turn into something pretty cool.

Per Free Patents Online, Apple is looking into building displays with dynamic backlight adaptation for better picture quality, particularly when watching letterboxed widescreen movies on a high-definition screen.

The concept was revealed this week in a new Apple patent application discovered by AppleInsider. The filing, entitled “Dynamic Backlight Adaptation for Black Bars with Subtitles,” focuses on improving picture quality when watching letterboxed content, like Hollywood movies, on an LCD display.

The application was filed just months ago, in September of 2011, and comes as rumors of a full-fledged Apple television set continue to build. One report this week claimed that Apple design chief Jonathan Ive has a 50-inch prototype set located in his secure work studio at the company’s corporate headquarters.

A common problem with LCD displays is the ability to show “true” black colors on the screen. This becomes amplified when black bars are included in a video, such as when watching a letterboxed film. The difficulty of adjusting the backlight properly when the black bars are present can result in poorer quality of the remainder of the video.

Even though modern television sets are built with widescreen 16-by-9 aspect ratios, Blu-ray and DVD films, as well as those sold on iTunes, often show movies in an even wider format, leaving black bars at the top and bottom. For example, many movies are shot in Panavision’s 2.35:1 ratio.

“Many video images are encoded with black bars, e.g., non-picture portions of the video images,” the filing reads. “These non-picture portions complicate the analysis of the brightness of the video images, and therefore can create problems when determining the trade-off between the brightness of the video signals and the intensity setting of the light source. Moreover, these non-picture portions can also produce visual artifacts, which can degrade the overall user experience.”

Further complicating picture quality and brightness is the fact that users can often view subtitles in the black bars located at the top and bottom of a widescreen film. This makes it even more difficult for the system to dynamically adjust and ensure the highest level of quality.

Apple’s solution is a complex processing system that could “spatially vary visual information” on a display. This would dynamically adjust the backlight source on a screen, like a high-definition television set, in a way that would improve the picture quality.

The display would have multiple brightness settings for its backlight based on the processing of the image. For example, the “picture portion” of the screen would be illuminated by LED backlighting to an appropriate level, whereas the “non-picture portion,” which would include the black bars, would have a different backlight setting.

The application describes an “extraction circuit” included in the display, which would calculate a brightness metric associated with the video signal. Then an “analysis circuit” would analyze and identify specific subsets of a video, like black bars that are shown when watching a movie.

The display would also include an “intensity circuit” that would determine the ideal intensity of the light source that illuminates the LCD display. The system could also employ a mapping function to determine optimum quality by using features like a “distortion metric” to limit image distortion.

Apple’s system could also process the video signal in advance and synchronize the intensity of the light source based on the image currently being displayed.

“The system determines the intensity setting of the light source on an image-by-image basis for the sequence of video images, where the intensity of the given video image is based on the brightness setting and/or brightness information contained in the video signals associated with the given image,” the filing reads. “Then, the system synchronizes the intensity of the setting of the light source with the current video image to be displayed.”

The filing, made public this week by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, is credited to inventors Ulrich T. Barnhoefer, Wei H. Yao, Wei Chen, Barry J. Corlett, and Jean-didier Allegrucci.

Though rumors of a full-fledged Apple television set have persisted for years, they picked up once again late last year, when it was revealed that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs told his biographer that he had “cracked’ the secret to building an integrated, easy-to-use television set.

“It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine,” Jobs said, prompting speculation that an Apple-branded television would use Siri, Apple’s voice control software featured on the iPhone 4S, as its primary input method.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple patent for iOS device facial recognition goes live

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Date: Friday, December 30th, 2011, 05:59
Category: iPhone, iPod, News, Patents

At least your iPad will remember who you are.

Per Free Patents Online, a recently published patent application shows how future iOS devices could use a forward-facing camera to recognize an individual user, whereupon the device could automatically customize applications, settings and features to a user’s personal preferences once they pick up the unit.

Entitled “Low Threshold Face Recognition,” the patent describes a low-computation solution for quickly and accurately recognizing a user.

The filing provides a simple way for multiple users to share a single device, like an iPad. Each user could customize their personal profile with unique wallpaper, applications and settings, and that profile would be immediately accessed once the iPad recognizes a user’s face.

Apple’s application notes that robust facial recognition systems that work in various lighting conditions and orientations can be taxing on an electronic device, requiring resources and draining battery life.

Its solution would reduce the impact of lighting conditions and biometric distortions on an image. The filing describes a “low-computation solution for reasonably effective (low threshold) face recognition that can be implemented on camera-equipped consumer portable appliances.”

Rather than aggressively analyzing a user’s entire face and using up time and resources, Apple’s concept would rely on a “high information portion” of a human face. Potential high information portions could include eyes, a mouth, or the tip of a user’s nose.

By recognizing the individual features on a user’s face, the system could scale the distance between someone’s eyes and their mouth. That distance could then be measured against the reference image originally captured by the user in order to confirm it is in fact the same person.

Apple’s application notes that its facial recognition capabilities could be constantly active due to lower power consumption. This means a user could simply point an iPhone or iPad at their face, without pressing a button, and have the screen automatically turn on and unlock the device.

This could be accomplished through an “orange-distance filter,” which would capture the “likely presence” of a human face in front of a camera. This filter would also be used to detect a person’s skin tone, and measure the distance of their face from the camera.

Once a user has been recognized, the facial recognition technology could not only grant them access to the device, but also customize its settings based on a unique user profile. Each user would be presented with a personalized configuration, as an iPhone or iPad would be able to “modify screen saver slide shows or other appliance non-security preferences,” the application reads.

The proposed invention, made public this week, was first filed by Apple in June of 2009. It is credited to Robert Mikio Free.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple awarded key multitouch technology patent, able to cite wider legal defense regarding oscillating signal technologies

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Date: Wednesday, December 28th, 2011, 05:06
Category: News, Patents

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Patent: It’s good to have ‘em.

According to Patently Apple, Apple won a core multitouch patent regarding oscillating signals that was alluded to when Steve Jobs first announced the original iPhone in 2007, and adds to the company’s already formidable legal arsenal.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office published on Tuesday that the Cupertino, Calif. company now owns a crucial patent that describes how touch events are recognized by a touchscreen device, and was one of the “200+ Patents for new inventions” Jobs lauded when the iPhone first debuted.

The newly granted patent focuses on the oscillator signal and circuit of a touchscreen-equipped device, an integral invention directly related to how users interact with their multitouch products.

Apple states in the filing:
“In general, multi-touch panels may be able to detect multiple touches (touch events or contact points) that occur at or about the same time, and identify and track their locations.”

Previous to the iPhone’s introduction in 2007, most touch-capable devices relied on single-touch input like resistive touchscreens. The legacy technology “senses” a touch when two electrically resistive sheets separated by a small gap are connected by the push of a finger or stylus, which in turn creates a voltage division that is detected by a device controller that records the change along the x and y axes.

Resistive displays are limited in that they can only recognize single inputs no matter how many objects are touching the screen.

One way to record multiple touches at a time is to generate an oscillating signal circuit that can power and clock inputs over a substrate as in a capacitive touchscreen display, however it is difficult to create a precise circuit-based oscillator.

Apple’s patent provides a solution to capacitive touchscreen problem by using calibration logic circuitry which compares the signal oscillation against a reference signal and tunes the clock frequency accordingly. The invention provides for an accurate capacitive display that can not only sense multiple touches, but also detect hover or near touches which are also recognized as “touch events.”

The patent wording states that the invention could apply to computing devices such as desktops, laptops, tablets or handhelds, including digital music and video players and mobile telephones. Also mentioned are public computing systems like kiosks and ATMs.

The news follows a Dec. 19 U.S. International Trade Commission decision which resulted in an import ban on HTC Android handsets that infringe on Apple’s Data Detectors patent. The injunction will take take effect on April 19, 2012, however HTC CEO Peter Chou said the Taiwanese company is already testing workarounds to bypass the ITC ruling.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple exploring fuel cell technologies for future notebook power sources

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Date: Thursday, December 22nd, 2011, 12:52
Category: Hardware, MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Patents

It’s the patents that make life interesting.

Per two articles (1, 2) at Free Patents Online, Apple is apparently exploring ways to power its notebooks via fuel cells.

“Our country’s continuing reliance on fossil fuels has forced our government to maintain complicated political and military relationships with unstable governments in the Middle East, and has also exposed our coastlines and our citizens to the associated hazards of offshore drilling,” the filings state. “These problems have led to an increasing awareness and desire on the part of consumers to promote and use renewable energy sources.”

Apple’s proposed invention notes that the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool, or EPEAT, has helped to increase consumer awareness of the environmental friendliness of electronic devices. In addition, Apple usually highlights the EPEAT ratings of products it introduces at highly publicized keynote events.

“As a consequence of increased consumer awareness, electronics manufacturers have become very interested in renewable energy sources for their products, and they have been exploring a number of promising renewable energy sources such as hydrogen fuel which is used in hydrogen fuel cells,” both documents state.

Apple then makes a case for using fuel cells to power portable electronic devices, noting that hydrogen and associated fuels could allow such devices to operate “for days or even weeks without refueling.” But the company also notes there are challenges in creating hydrogen fuel cell systems that are portable and cost-effective.

The solution presented by Apple describes a fuel cell system that can both provide power to and receive power from a rechargeable battery found in a device like a MacBook.

“This eliminates the need for a bulky and heavy battery within the fuel cell system, which can significantly reduce the size, weight and cost of the fuel cell system,” one filing reads. “This fuel cell system includes a fuel cell stack which converts fuel into electrical power. It also includes a controller which controls operation of the fuel cell system.”

“Fuel Cell System to Power a Portable Computing Device” was first filed with the USPTO in August of 2010. It is credited to Bradley L. Spare, Vijay M. Iyer, Jean L. Lee, Gregory L. Tice, Michael D. Hillman and David I. Simon. “Fuel Cell System Coupled to a Portable Computing device” is a continuation-in-part of a patent filed in 2010. It lists Iyer and Spare as its inventors.

Apple’s interest in fuel cell technology is not new and other patent applications have been found that showcase Apple as looking into lighter and more efficient hydrogen fuel cells. The company proposed accomplishing this by building multiple fuel cells connected in a parallel configuration by a power bus, along with a voltage-multiplying circuit to increase the voltage of the stack.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Recent Apple patent points towards shatter-proof, shock mounted iPhone glass

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Date: Monday, November 21st, 2011, 07:58
Category: iPhone, News, Patents

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You can’t knock Apple for trying to make a sturdier product.

Per the United States Patent and Trademark Office, a recent Apple patent applications shows the company looking to create a “shock mounting cover glass in consumer electronic devices,” the invention claims a tunable shock mount sandwiched between the phone’s glass and other hardware. There’s also plans for a sensor that can distinguish a “drop event” from normal phone movements and an actuator to prepare the shock mount for impact. Given that it’s only at the application stage, we won’t be seeing bombproof iPhone displays any time soon, but here’s hoping it’ll become a product reality someday.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.