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.

Rumor: Apple may be looking to move away from Intel chipsets, begin using its own processors for certain products

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Date: Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012, 07:15
Category: Hardware, MacBook Air, Processors, Rumor

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It’s been six years.

Maybe it’s time for a change.

Per Bloomberg Businessweek, Apple has reportedly “deliberated” moving its lineup of Mac computers away from Intel processors, though such a change apparently isn’t “imminent.”

The details come from a profile of Apple’s current state under CEO Tim Cook published Wednesday by Bloomberg Businessweek. Citing two unnamed sources familiar with Apple’s discussions, the report indicated that Apple would like to move away from Intel’s CPUs in its Macs.

“Such a shift would be difficult and isn’t imminent, though it would allow Apple to further distinguish its laptops and desktops from competitors that run Intel’s chips and Microsoft’s Windows software,” authors Brad Stone, Adam Satariano and Peter Burrows wrote.

Apple’s interest in moving away from Intel is not new, but Wednesday’s report is an indication that the desire still exists at the company. Per AppleInsider, Apple had discussions with Intel’s chief competitor, AMD, about switching to its chips for future Macs.

Apple previously differentiated its Mac lineup from Windows PCs by utilizing PowerPC chips built by IBM and Motorola. But in 2005, Apple announced it would switch to Intel microprocessors for all of its Mac hardware. The transition was complete by August of 2006, and starting with OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard in 2009, support for legacy PowerPC Macs no longer existed.

While Intel currently powers Apple’s Mac lineup, the company is absent from Apple’s more popular iOS devices, including the iPhone and iPad. Intel has instead pushed its own “Atom” processors for mobile devices, but tests have shown that Apple’s latest A6 CPU found in the iPhone 5 outperforms Atom.

While AMD would be an option if Apple were to abandon Intel, Apple has made headway in designing its own custom silicon for the iPhone and iPad. Earlier this year, rumors suggested Apple was looking to use its own ARM processors in upcoming iterations of the MacBook, especially in power-critical applications like the thin-and-light MacBook Air.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

AppleCare rep cites iPhone 5 camera “purple fringing” as normal behavior, in spite of user complaints

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Date: Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012, 07:25
Category: Hardware, iPhone, News

This is a tad odd, but if you’re a fan of Prince, you might just love it.

Per AppleInsider, in a reply to a customer inquiry regarding the “purple flare” some iPhone 5 users have seen when taking pictures with bright light sources in frame, an AppleCare representative says the phenomenon is considered “normal behavior” for the new handset’s camera.

The response from Apple representative Debby claims Apple’s engineering team recommended to angle the camera away from bright lights to avoid the purple flare some users have taken to calling a design defect.

The reply went as follows:

AppleCare Support response:
Dear Matt,

Our engineering team just gave me this information and we recommend that you angle the camera away from the bright light source when taking pictures. The purple flare in the image provided is considered normal behavior for iPhone 5′s camera. If you wish to reach me regarding this case number [redacted], please contact me at [redacted]. I currently work Thursday-Monday: 7:00am – 3:30pm Mountain Time. If you reach my voicemail, please leave your name, phone number, case number and the best time to reach you. Email is [redacted]@apple.com.

Sincerely,
Debby
AppleCare Support

Assorted publications reported that so-called “purple fringing” is a common issue with modern digital cameras, especially miniaturized units like those found in smartphones.

It was speculated that the “purple haze” was caused by the iPhone 5′s use of a new sapphire lens cover, new component layout or sensor issues, however more likely a cause is normal distortion of light presented in this case as chromatic aberration. In most cases, chromatic distortion skews toward shorter wavelength violet light, which is difficult to correct with larger prime lenses, let alone the minuscule versions used in the iPhone 5.

According to a thread on the Apple’s Support Communities webpage dedicated to the purple fringing issue, one user claims the company has agreed to swap out their handset for a new unit, though it is unclear if replacements will be considered for all affected customers.

If you’ve seen this issue on your end or been in dialogue with Apple regarding it, please let us know about your experience in the comments.

Rumor: AU Optronics building displays for 7.85-inch iPad

Posted by:
Date: Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012, 07:53
Category: Hardware, iPad, Rumor

Component reports aren’t always the full story, but they point to something that’s being built.

Per DigiTimes, Apple is said to have tapped AU Optronics to build displays for its 7.85-inch iPad, reportedly set to hit the market in November.

Citing unnamed sources in Taiwan, the publication said that AU Optronics recently landed orders to provide displays for Apple’s so-called “iPad mini.”

Apple is expected to hold a media event this month to unveil its new, smaller iPad. One rumor published on Monday claimed that the company is planning to send out invitations to the media on Oct. 10, which would suggest the event itself would be held a week later on Wednesday, Oct. 17.

If those dates prove true, it would imply a late October or early November launch for the iPad mini, based on Apple’s previous timeframes for product launches.

AU Optronics has previously been identified as a potential supplier for Apple’s rumored iPad mini. One report from August also suggested that LG Display Co. would build 7.85-inch screens for the new iPad.

It’s expected that Apple’s smaller iPad will feature a screen resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels, which is the same resolution as the iPad 2 and would allow iPad applications to run without modification. But the same number of pixels would be packed into a smaller 7.85-inch screen, making it a higher resolution display than the iPad 2, which currently sells for US$399.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

A6 processor found to vary speeds for best possible performance

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Date: Friday, September 28th, 2012, 07:22
Category: Hardware, iPhone, News, Processors

They say the A6 processor has some cool tricks up its sleeve.

They A6 processor doesn’t have sleeves, but it does have some interesting performance variations. No sleeves, though.

Per The Unofficial Apple Weblog, one possible reason the iPhone 5 has such great battery life is the clever way the A6 changes its clock speed. While originally thought to be clocked at 1GHz, the chip has been clocked at 1.1GHz as well as 1.3GHz by Current Editorials.

While 9to5Mac saw the chip’s speed drop as low as 550MHz, this seemed to do more with an as-yet-updated Geekbench app testing the chip (which also resulted in the 1GHz assumption). A Geekbench update seems to paint a different picture now. By all accounts it appears the chip can change “speeds,” however, resulting in better battery life and dynamically tuning itself to the demand for CPU.

Nifty stuff…now if Apple could just release a much-improved iOS 6 Maps app, most of its problems would be over and it could sit and relax with a margarita this Friday.

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

Posted by:
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.

Analyst: Lightning cable shortage due to new production methods, change in suppliers

Posted by:
Date: Tuesday, September 25th, 2012, 06:48
Category: Hardware, iPhone, News

There might be a valid reason as to why Apple’s Lightning connector sold out so quickly last week.

Per AppleInsider, KGI analyst Ming-Chi Kuo notes a change in supplier weighting combined with low yield rates has caused a shortage of Lightning connector supply.

Being roughly 80 percent smaller than its predecessor, Lightning is a complex component and requires new production methods, therefore decreasing the initial yield rate.

It is estimated that Cheng Uei, otherwise known as Foxlink, has been allocated 60 percent of all Lightning production, while Hon Hai, or Foxconn, retains the remaining 40 percent. However, output from supply channels indicate that only Foxlink is able to make stable shipments due to a better yield rate, meaning overall supply can’t meet crushing demand from early iPhone 5 adopters.

With previous iDevices, Hon Hai was the main supplier of the 30-pin connector and enjoyed a 50 to 60 percent share of orders while other companies picked up the slack. When the new Lightning connector was introduced alongside the iPhone 5, however, yield rates from Hon Hai’s facilities were low, allowing rival company Cheng Uei to take the lead in supplying Apple with the new part.

While the specific numbers are unknown, the change in supply weighting from Foxconn to Foxlink is seen as a definite driver in the supply shortage.

Sources say Apple has asked Cheng Uei to dedicate additional workers and production lines to Lightning production to make up for the supply gap, however the ramp up process requires time and is not expected to be solved overnight.

Despite being criticized for introducing a new dock form factor, effectively rendering a decade of 30-pin compatible accessories obsolete, Apple saw Lightning connectors and cables sell out in less than half an hour after iPhone 5 preorders went live last week. Currently, the Apple Store is showing delivery times for the adaptors and connectors pushed back into October.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Hack discovered, Verizon iPhone 5 apparently unlockable for use on GSM networks

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Date: Monday, September 24th, 2012, 07:58
Category: Hack, Hardware, iPhone, News

Ok, this is interesting.

Hours after the iPhone 5 hit store shelves across the U.S. on Friday, it has reportedly been discovered that the CDMA Verizon version of the device can be used on AT&T and T-Mobile’s networks with a simple GSM micro SIM card modification.

Per the iDownloadBlog, it’s apparently possible to trim down and install a micro SIM card into the new Verizon iPhone 5, which was purchased under contract, and connect to AT&T’s HSPA+ “4G” network.

The publication contacted a Verizon representative who confirmed the handset is indeed unlocked, meaning it can use SIM cards from other carriers even under contract. This is encouraging to travelers who own a CDMA Verizon iPhone 5 but need to hop onto international GSM networks from time to time.

While the installation is anything but elegant, in this case requiring a paper clip and a piece of tape to hold the card in place rather than the supplied tray, AT&T and T-Mobile nano-SIMs are likely to have a better fit.

With the iPhone 5, Apple is implementing new nano-SIM cards that bring a 40 percent reduction in size compared to last-generation micro SIM cards.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Some users reporting scuffs, scratches on new iPhone 5 handsets

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Date: Monday, September 24th, 2012, 07:31
Category: Hardware, iPhone, News

You can’t win ‘em all.

Per AppleInsider, an increasing number of iPhone 5 owners are reporting scuffs and other signs of damage to their newly-purchased smartphones right out of the box, with some miffed customers taking to the web in what is being dubbed “scuffgate.”

According to complaints posted to various forums and social media sites, a limited number of launch-day iPhone 5 units are being delivered straight from the factory with scuffs and dings.

While the exact percentage of affected iPhones is unknown, the issue appears to be significant enough to warrant its own hashtag on Twitter. The tongue-in-cheek “#Scuffgate” is a callback to the iPhone 4′s “antennagate” controversy which saw the then-new handset ship with an antenna design flaw that affected cellular performance.

Most of the reports are coming from users who bought the black and slate iPhone 5, which some claim is due to the anodizing process that colors the handset’s aluminum backplate. The speculation may be unfounded, however, as a number of white and silver units have also been affected. A more likely explanation is that both versions are affected equally, but the damage is more noticeable on the black and slate model as the scratches reveal the underlying silver-colored “raw” aluminum, a stark contrast to the anodized outer layer.

The cause of the damage is unknown, however similar reports of dings and scratches surfaced when the new iPad was released in March, possibly hinting at a manufacturing process flaw.

Not to be outdone, the cool cats at iFixit posted the following video to test the scuffability of the new handset:



Stay tuned for additional details and if you’ve seen scuffs on your new iPhone 5, please let us know in the comments.

iFixit, iLab Factory post initial iPhone 5 teardown reports

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Date: Friday, September 21st, 2012, 07:31
Category: Hardware, iPhone, News

Once again, the lunatics over at iFixit got their mitts on the new iPhone, got to work dissecting it and posted the results faster than anyone could believe it.

And, once again, they found some really cool stuff inside Apple’s newest handset.

Per iFixit’s full teardown report, the repair firm managed to snag a “black and slate” copy of the device in Australia, the first country to see official iPhone 5 availability, within the first hour of sales and proceeded to disassemble the device for its usual comprehensive teardown.

The first steps of revealing the innards of Apple’s most advanced smartphone include removing the small proprietary pentalobe screws that attach the unit’s 4-inch display to the aluminum “uni-body” back casing. A suction cup was used to easily lift the screen assembly away from the rear housing, a departure from the involved removal procedure seen with the iPhone 4 and 4S.

“Compare this to the iPhone 4s, where it took 38 steps to isolate the display assembly, and this iPhone may be the most repairable iPhone we’ve seen in a while,” iFixit wrote.

Next to be removed was the larger 3.8V, 5.45WH battery, which holds slightly more juice than the 3.7V, 5.3Wh part found in the iPhone 4S. In comparison, Samsung’s flagship Galaxy S III uses a 3.8V, 7.98Wh battery.

To the right of the larger power cell is the the logic board, which contains the high-performance A6 chip, baseband system, storage and a litany of other essential components.

With help from Chipworks, the logic board’s packages were identified:
- Skyworks 77352-15 GSM/GPRS/EDGE power amplifier module

- SWUA 147 228 is an RF antenna switch module

- Avago AFEM-7813 dual-band LTE B1/B3 PA+FBAR duplexer module

- Skyworks 77491-158 CDMA power amplifier module

- Avago A5613 ACPM-5613 LTE band 13 power amplifier

- Triquint 666083-1229 WCDMA / HSUPA power amplifier / duplexer module for the UMTS band

- STMicroelectronics LIS331DLH (2233/DSH/GFGHA) ultra low-power, high performance, three-axis linear accelerometer

- Texas Instruments 27C245I touch screen SoC

- Broadcom BCM5976 touchscreen controller

- Apple A6 Application processor

- Qualcomm MDM9615M LTE modem

- RTR8600 Multi-band/mode RF transceiver

According to iFixit, “many of the components that came out with the logic board are held in place with screws and brackets.”

Apparently Apple is very concerned with making sure that all the connectors are firmly seated and won’t rattle lose over time.

On the reverse is Apple’s A6 processor, which is said to be twice as fast as its A5 predecessor. A recent test using the SunSpider JavaScript benchmarking tool confirmed Apple’s new SoC is utilizing a different memory interface than normal ARM Cortex A9 chips as it outperformed identical processors based on the same ARM-patented technology.

The A6 is also though to be Apple’s first attempt at designing an ARM core in-house, however the internal architecture has yet to be investigated.

Wrapping up the teardown is a look at Apple’s new Lightning connector. There has been mixed emotions with the new plug, as the move away from Apple’s 30-pin design means the iPhone 5 may not work with legacy aftermarket accessories without an adapter. The company claims there was no way to make such a thin handset without the new connector, however, and said the standard is expected to be used for foreseeable future.

Overall, iFixit gives the iPhone 5 a “7 out of 10″ score for repairability.

Since a video’s worth more than a thousand words, take a gander at what iFixit had to say:



Over on the Asian end of things, iLab Factory (via Mac Otakara) posted the following iPhone 5 teardown video:



Stay tuned for additional details and please let us know what you make of the iPhone 5 in the comments.