O'Grady's PowerPage » Patents

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.

Apple looks into universal power adapter to charge MacBook, iOS devices

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Date: Thursday, November 17th, 2011, 07:58
Category: News, Patents

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It’s the patents that make things interesting.

Per freepatentsonline, Apple has shown interest in building a new universal power adapter compatible with different DC voltage levels, allowing portable devices like a MacBook Pro, iPhone and iPad to be charged at the same time with just one wall plug.

The proposed invention was revealed this week in a new Apple patent application filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The filing, entitled “Multi-Output Power Supply,” notes that most commercially available adapters do not include multiple outputs for supplying different DC voltage levels.

“As such, users may often purchase a device-specific adapter for powering a device,” it states. “However, this requires that the user carry a separate adapter for each device, which can be cumbersome when a user is traveling, as many users forget to bring all of the associated adapters required for various devices.”

Those adapters can also be relatively bulky, Apple notes, making them less than ideal to carry while traveling. The company also said that it can be confusing to users when multiple adapters are at use in a stationary location, like a home or office.

Apple’s solution is a new universal power supply that would connect to multiple electronic devices. This would make it unnecessary for users to carry multiple power adapters while traveling with multiple portable devices.

The filing describes a single power adapter that includes a DC-to-DC converter, allowing it to meet the different voltage requirements of unique devices. The adapter could also intelligently control power supplied through its outlets to ensure that the correct voltage is sent out to appropriate devices.

In addition to iPods, iPhones and iPads, the application specifically notes that such a system could also be compatible with Apple’s patented MagSafe technology, used to supply power to the company’s MacBook line of notebooks.

The charging cable could include a power “brick” similar to the ones currently used with a MacBook Pro or MacBook Air. That brick would include the necessary voltage converter, and could allow another portable device like an iPhone to be plugged in to charge.

The proposed invention was first filed by Apple in May of 2010, and was made public this week. It is credited to Aleksandar Pance, Nicholas Alan Rundle, and John Douglas Field.

The latest application is not the first time Apple has shown interest in redesigning its power adapters to allow charging of multiple devices. In September, another filing showed the company is interested in building a universal charger that would allow portable devices to not only recharge their batteries, but also sync data while plugged in to the same adapter.

Apple patent points towards clip-on iPod nano, iPod shuffle devices with integrated speakers

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Date: Thursday, November 10th, 2011, 08:30
Category: iPod, News, Patents

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It’s the patents that make tech interesting.

Per freepatentsonline, Apple has shown interest in building a clip-on iPod with the same wearable form factor as the current iPod nano or iPod shuffle, but with a new integrated speaker built directly into the rear clip.

The concept was revealed this week in a new patent application published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office entitled, “Speaker Clip.”

The text of the proposed invention makes no specific mention of the iPod nano, or even the similarly shaped iPod shuffle. In fact, it doesn’t even include Apple’s iPod brand name. But the accompanying images show a device that looks like the current clip-on iPod nano and iPod shuffle, only with the new inclusion of an integrated speaker.

The new iPod would feature the same clip on the back that is found on the current wearable models, but that new clip would have a cavity in the middle. Filling that hole would be an “acoustical device,” or speaker.

That speaker could simply be used for user-interface feedback, providing simple sounds such as clicks to create a more intuitive experience for users when utilizing the multi-touch screen on the front of an iPod nano. Or it could also be used as a more full-featured — albeit tiny — speaker to listen to music tracks, or perhaps even do something new, like play games.

The speaker located on the attachment clip would be wired back to the main housing of the device through a “conduit” in the spring-loaded hinge that attaches the clip to the device. The speaker could also be protected by a cover that could shield the speaker from the elements, but also allow sound to pass through.

The filing notes that any kind of acoustic speaker could be used in this device, but one example given is a piezoelectric speaker. The conduit that connects the speaker to the main housing and processor could be a coaxial cable, flex microstrip, or fine gauge wire.

The protective cover layer could be a solid surface with numerous perforations, allowing sound to pass through. A mesh layer atop the speaker, woven from either plastic, metal or natural fibers, could be attached with an adhesive to the protective cover layer.

The iPod nano gained its touchscreen-driven design in September 2010 with its sixth-generation hardware revision. The small, wearable device is 46 percent smaller and 42 percent lighter than its predecessor, yet it still manages to include up to 16GB of storage, a 30-pin dock connector, hardware volume buttons and a lock button, an FM radio, and even Nike+ integration with a pedometer.

There has been some previous evidence that Apple plans to expand the functionality of its diminutive iPod nano even further while retaining its current form factor. One alleged prototype reveled in a picture this May claimed to show a rear-facing camera placed on the device. But this week’s filing is the first suggestion of an integrated speaker.

The proposed invention, made public this week, was first filed with the USPTO in May of 2010. It is credited to John Benjamin Filson, Eugene Whang, and Matthew Rohrbach.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple patent points towards improved OLED displays in future iOS devices

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Date: Thursday, November 3rd, 2011, 08:08
Category: iPad, iPhone, iPod, News, Patents

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Uncertain about what’s coming down the pipe? Just check the recent patent applications.

Per freepatentsonline, Apple has shown interest in improving the technology behind organic light emitting diodes, or OLED displays, to provide even better battery life for devices like the iPhone and iPad.

Apple’s pursuit of better OLED technology was revealed this week in a new patent application that went public. Entitled “Power Efficient Organic Light Emitting Diode Display,” it describes ways in which an OLED screen could offer improved battery life, particularly when displaying the color white.

The filing notes that OLED screens can operate at lower voltages than traditional displays, like the LCD screens currently found on the iPhone and iPad. This is possible because OLED technology is light emissive rather than light transmissive.

But while OLED can offer some advantages over LCD — including darker blacks, higher contrast ratios, and improved power efficiency — those perks are diminished when an OLED display is used to generate large amounts of white display area.

In order to display a screen that is largely the color white, an OLED panel has to utilize a range of color channels for every pixel on the display. Doing this can be power intensive and make the device inefficient.

“The relative power inefficiency in display white spaces using an OLED display may be particularly problematic in certain contexts,” the filing notes. “For example, certain applications, such as word processing, spreadsheet design and use, database design and use, e-mail, and other business or productivity applications, typically utilize dark or black alphanumeric characters on a white background, such as to simulate writing or printing on a sheet of paper.

“As a result, these applications may cause the display of large expanses of white background with relatively little area devoted to the non-white alphanumeric characters. Such applications, therefore, may make the use of OLED displays unsuitable or undesirably power intensive for battery powered and/or portable electronic devices, such as handheld devices.”

Apple’s proposed solution to this problem would include a transparent OLED display panel positioned in front of a solid white background layer, like a white transflective sheet. The display would also feature an opacity switchable layer located between the OLED panel and the background layer.

“The switchable layer may be switched, in whole or in part, from an opaque or semi-opaque state to a transparent or semi-transparent state,” the application reads. “For example, in one embodiment, the switchable layer may be opaque, e.g. black, in the absence of a current. However, upon application of a current all or part of the switchable layer may be come transparent so that the underlying background layer is visible.”

The combination of a solid white background and an opaque layer that could be made transparent would allow a transparent OLED panel to avoid displaying the color white. By instead utilizing the white background, this could produce the color when appropriate, such as when reading black text on a white background, without consuming battery life to turn the individual OLED pixels white.

The white background could even be used for smaller elements on a screen, and applied even in situations where the entire background isn’t white. In one illustration, Apple shows a list of calendar events on an iPhone, with one tiny element — the selected “List” view — displayed against a white background.

Apple’s proposed invention, made public this week by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, was first filed in April of 2010. It is credited to Daniel William Jarvis, Albert John Golko, and Felix Jose Alvarez Rivera.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple patent points out company’s exploration of 3D gestures/input controls for devices

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Date: Thursday, October 27th, 2011, 06:15
Category: News, Patents

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Per the cool cats at Free Patents Online, Apple is apparently investigating new ways of interacting with devices, such as using hand gestures to navigate and control a video recording system without touching anything.

Apple’s interest in hands-off control of a device like an iPhone, iPad or Mac was revealed this week in a new patent application made public by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Entitled “Real Time Video Process Control Using Gestures,” the filing, discovered by AppleInsider, is related to remotely controlling and editing video recordings on a mobile device.

Such editing could be done with gestures on a touchscreen, much like is already available on the iPhone and iPad. But within the application, Apple also makes mention of hand gestures that can be performed without touching the device.

The filing notes that a device could be controlled with hand gestures accomplished in either two or three dimensions, and these could be interpreted through infrared sensors, optical sensors, or other methods. These gestures could be used as a replacement for, or even in concert with, traditional touchscreen-based gestures.

“As with the touch based gestures applied on or near the touch sensitive input device, the hand gestures can be interpreted to provide instructions for real time processing of the video by the video capture device,” the filing reads.

Apple’s goal is to simplify and minimize the need for user input partially because the size of recording devices, like an iPhone or iPad, has become so small. The filing notes that placing a finger on a touch-sensitive display can cause a video capture device to move, and that movement is then translated to the video recording.

With Apple’s method, a remote camera could be controlled wirelessly from a second, separate device. An iPhone or iPad are specifically mentioned in the filing as potential options for a “control device.”

One image accompanying the application shows a video being recorded on an iPhone. That video is then transmitted wirelessly, via Bluetooth, to an iPad, where the user can view the video in real-time and make adjustments.

Given the volume of data that must be wirelessly transmitted, Apple’s solution is to automate real-time video processing as much as possible, identifying objects and individual people’s faces captured in a video. The filing even states that a system could help to determine how entities captured in the video relate to one other.

In one example provided, a video of two tennis players playing against each other could be analyzed to have a “negative correlation,” as one player is hitting the ball while the other is not.

“Therefore, by determining the relative correlation between these two players, an implicit association can be assigned to each,” the application reads.

Using this kind of data, the image could be framed according to user specifications. For example, after recognizing a specific face, a video capture device could zoom in and track that individual in real time, with minimal or no input from the user.

Apple’s proposed invention, published this week by the USPTO, was originally filed in April of 2010. It is credited to Benjamin A. Rottler and Michael Ingrassia Jr. I.