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.

Google’s Schmidt hints at “highest quality” tablet within six months

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Date: Monday, December 19th, 2011, 10:00
Category: Hardware, News

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Where there’s money to be made, there shall be competition.

Per Electronista, Google chairman Eric Schmidt in an interview with Italy’s Corriere Della Sera raised the prospect of a Nexus tablet. The search firm planned to sell a tablet of the “highest quality” within six months’ time. He didn’t mention the Nexus label by name, but Google usually hasn’t marketed anyone else’s tablet itself, even for the reference Xoom.

The timing is such that it would nearly dovetail with plans for Google I/O in June. Google regularly gives away a free device at Google I/O to attendees of the developer-focused show, usually to showcase a new OS. Tips have hinted it might have release Jelly Bean, possibly Android 4.5 or 5.0, at or by the event.

A reference tablet would be an admission that Android tablets may be headed in the same direction as smartphones, where the stock interface becomes the rarity rather than the norm. Most Android 3 tablets launched in 2011 have used the stock interface, but later models and post-launch updates have customized the interface and both guaranteed delayed updates as well as clouded the ability to see the official Google experience.

The tablet would likely be made by a partner like HTC, Motorola, or Samsung, but it would still represent Google co-designing a direct competitor to both other Android partners and to Apple’s iPad.

In other comments, Schmidt wouldn’t comment on the rumored Majel voice command system, saying he wouldn’t comment on future, unannounced products. He insisted Google has long had the “best” voice dictation system and could use it to do things similar to Apple’s Siri. The iPhone 4S-based system has been touted as better since it understands context, follow-ups, and indirect questions where Android’s system is limited to specific syntax.

Thus far, Apple’s been able to dominate the tablet market, so the next year should prove interesting. Let us know what you make of this and we’ll have additional details as they become available.

Rumor: Apple developing wearable, Siri-controlled computing devices

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Date: Monday, December 19th, 2011, 09:12
Category: Hardware, Rumor

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It’s the rumors that make technology interesting.

Per the New York Times, Apple has reportedly begun work on new, tiny, wearable devices that could be controlled with Siri, or used to input information to devices like the iPhone.

One of the prototype products developed by Apple, according to the article, is a “curved-glass iPod that would wrap around the wrist.” Users could interact with this device by using their voice, like with Siri on the iPhone 4S.

Another experimental idea from Apple has been small, wearable devices that could be used to input information on another, more powerful device like an iPhone. These accessories could also wirelessly display information on other devices, like iPods.

Apple’s interest in wearable electronics has reportedly been spearheaded by a very small group of employees at the company. But prototypes of some wearable devices have allegedly been built by the company.

Author Nick Bilton said Apple is not alone in its pursuit of these devices: Google, too, is said to have been working on wearable computers that could connect to Android smartphones. Calling the smartphone the “first wearable computer,” Bilton said smartphones will eventually become the “hub” for all information, “transmitting power and Internet access to sensors and screens that are tacked on to our clothing.”

Of course, Apple has produced wearable version of the iPod for years, and currently sells the iPod shuffle and iPod nano, both of which include a clip so it can be attached to clothing. The iPod nano, which includes a multi-touch display, can also be worn as a watch with available accessories.

Though the tiny iPod nano includes a standard 30-pin iPod dock connector, it does not include any wireless functionality that would allow it to wirelessly communicate with an iPhone. As it stands, the iPod nano is a standalone media playback device.

But Bilton’s report envisions a future where all devices are connected, and wearable electronics could include glasses or even contact lenses with built-in screens, capable of displaying information to users.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple releases Thunderbolt Display firmware 1.1

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Date: Tuesday, December 13th, 2011, 06:58
Category: Hardware, News, Software

Released alongside the iTunes update is a new version of the Thunderbolt Display’s firmware, bringing it up to version 1.1.

Per AppleInsider, the update addresses fan noise issues some users have been experiencing as well as overall stability improvements.

The download comes in at 942 KB and requires either Mac OS X 10.6.8 or OS X Lion 10.7.2 or later to install and run.

If you’ve tried the updater and have any feedback to offer, please let us know in the comments.

Rumor: Upcoming Apple television sets to arrive in three sizes, including 32″ and 55″

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Date: Tuesday, December 6th, 2011, 05:06
Category: Hardware, Rumor

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It’s the rumors that help make life interesting.

Per Australian web blog SmartHouse, Apple’s full-fledged television set will arrive at the end of 2012 in three screen sizes, maxing out at 55 inches, a new rumor claims.

Citing sources in Japan, the web site reported this week that the new Apple television will also come in an entry-level size of 32 inches. It did not indicate exactly what screen size the third model would feature, falling somewhere between the low end with 32 inches and maximum size of 55 inches.

The report said it’s a “major Japanese company” that’s involved in manufacturing Apple’s rumored television set. Echoing previous claims, the report said that the Apple television will feature Siri integration, allowing users to control the TV set with their voice.

Powering the rumored television will be a new processor expected to debut in Apple’s third-generation iPad, which the publication said will arrive “midway through 2012.” Presumably that processor will be an “A6″ custom-built ARM-based CPU.

Apple’s anticipated high-end 55-inch model is expected to compete with “smart TVs” from established television makers like Samsung and LG. Those companies’ next-generation TV sets are expected to have new features like faster processors, a “combination of OLED display,” and “Super HD” from LG, the report said.

Rumors of an Apple television set have picked up steam since the release of the authorized biography of Steve Jobs. In that book, Jobs hinted to biographer Walter Isaacson that Apple was at work on a completely new device that would feature “the simplest user interface you could imagine.”

Reports have suggested that Apple’s anticipated television set could arrive as early as mid 2012, while others have seen Apple announcing it in late 2012 for an early 2013 sale date.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Rumor: Mac OS X 10.7.3 beta references hint at upgraded Mac Pro units, improved video cards

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Date: Monday, December 5th, 2011, 07:20
Category: Hardware, Rumor, Software

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It’s the beta references that provide the best hints.

Per netkas.org, Apple’s Mac Pro may be getting a long awaited refresh according to hints tucked away in the most current Mac OS X 10.7.3 beta. The beta version of the OS update includes references to an ATI video card code named “Tahiti” tucked away in the ATIRadeonX3000 driver file, which would give a new Mac Pro model even more powerful graphics processing than current models.

The article stated that “Tahiti” is a code name for ATI’s next generation AMD-based video cards, and may be the upcoming high-performance 7900-series.

The Mac Pro was last updated in July 2010, making the current configuration well over a year old.

The long interval between updates has to reports claiming Apple is questioning whether or not to continue selling its pro-level tower computer, especially since processors like the Core i7 are available, and Thunderbolt ports offer a potential alternative to the Mac Pro’s built-in expansion slots.

Referencing new AMD video cards doesn’t, however, necessarily mean new Mac Pros are on the way. Apple could simply be adding support for the upcoming cards as a build-to-order option, or developers might be misinterpreting what the references in the driver files mean.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Perhaps the Greatest Thing Ever

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Date: Thursday, December 1st, 2011, 07:44
Category: Fun, Hack, Hardware

It’s unassailably cool, a perfect combination of cats, programmable Arduino circuitry, LEDs, Twitter and the shell from your old eMac. Per creator Samuel Cox, you too can develop an eSleeper, which turned a hollowed-out eMac into a bed for his feline. Inside the shell is an Arduino Ethernet connected to an IR sensor, some LEDs and a sound shield. When the cat breaks the infrared beam it triggers the iconic Mac chime and turns on a series color-shifting LEDs for a little mood lighting. From there the clock starts ticking.



When your gate decides it’s had enough napping and leaves the white plastic cocoon, tripping the IR sensor again, a random phrase is tweeted, along with the length of the cat’s siesta. Check out the video after the break to see the eSleeper in all its adorable DIY glory.

Check the link for full instructions as to how to build your own.

And you should, as it’ll give your cat one less reason to murder you for its own amusement.

Seagate announces 750GB Momentus XT hard drive, combines HDD, SSD features on same unit

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Date: Tuesday, November 29th, 2011, 08:11
Category: hard drive, Hardware, News

This could smack of the nifty.

Per Engadget, hard drive manufacturer Seagate has released its 750GB Momentus XT, a hybrid HDD/SSD unit with a conventional 742GB hard drive attached to 8GB of NAND flash memory. The unit boosts a speedy SATA III 6Gb/s interface and promises to cut boot-up and lag times compared to a standard laptop hard disk, by gradually learning which of your files are popular enough to deserve a spot in that solid state VIP lounge. The unit retails for US$189 and includes a five-year warranty.

Stay tuned for additional details and if you happen to snag one, please let us know what you make of it in the comments.

Rumor: Hitachi and Sony collaborating on unknown Apple iOS device, iPad 4 to receive new display connector technology

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Date: Monday, November 28th, 2011, 03:06
Category: Hardware, iPad, Rumor

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It’s the rumors that keep life interesting.

Per Macotakara.jp, Hitachi and Sony are reported to have teamed up to supply Apple with 4-inch LCD displays for an unspecified iOS device that will hit the market in 2012.

Citing sources within Apple’s Far Eastern supply chain, macotakara.jp claims that Hitachi Displays, Ltd. and Sony Mobile Display Corporation have begun shipments of 4-inch LCD panels to Apple for unspecified iOS device due next year.

The two companies are further reported to merge their business with Toshiba Mobile Display Co., Ltd. to form “Japan Display” in 2012 spring.

The report arrives on the heels of claims last week that Sharp will also produce panels for the iPad 3 at its Kameyama No. 2 plant in central Japan; Apple typically sources its components from multiple partners.

A person familiar with the matter further claimed Apple has invested an unspecified amount in Sharp’s factories. The investment is believed to help support Sharp’s production capacity for IGZO (indium, gallium, zinc) LCD panels for the next iPhone and iPad that will allow for thinner designs and improved battery performance.

The web site also cites the same sources as saying that an unspecified Taiwanese company will soon be “providing LCD technology faces” to Apple for a “fundamentally changed” iPad 4 that will be manufactured by a new process.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Leaked Intel documents present ideas for Thunderbolt-based docking components

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Date: Friday, November 25th, 2011, 12:39
Category: Hardware, News

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This could turn into something nifty.

Per VR-Zone, Intel is hoping to formalize a standard for docking on ultrabooks with Thunderbolt ports, leaked internal notes demonstrate. The implementation would combine the Thunderbolt port with a wider companion dock connector to handle other forms of data, such as Ethernet or USB, VR-Zone said. To keep the Ethernet connection alive for Intel’s vPro remote management or for Windows 8′s Connected Standby mode, however, the docking port would need to have direct access to the Ethernet chipset inside.

Intel also had suggestions for what the dock itself could have, including HDMI or Mini DisplayPort for video out, a USB hub, or even eSATA for fast external drives. Thunderbolt’s support for daisy chaining a total of six Thudnerbolt devices is an option, although it would require the widest bandwidth versions of Thunderbolt and may be rare.

Intel’s strategy would be primarily intended for business, where it’s expected that workers would dock the ultrabook at their desks and get an external display and desktop-like expansion with just one cable. It notably tries to downplay the use of USB 3.0, saying that the standard isn’t ideal for displays or certain kinds of links. Intel might have an economic incentive to discourage USB 3.0, however, since it can profit from its exclusivity on Thunderbolt controller chips where USB 3.0 is generic and won’t see Intel make much if any profit, even when its own hardware is in use.

Apple already has a form of Thunderbolt docking through its Thunderbolt Display and may end up having the superior option for simplicity: its lack of vPro lets it route audio, the display, Ethernet, FireWire, and USB through one cable. Intel’s approach would bring more of that experience to Windows users as well as provide some extras for the pro audience. Non-Mac systems with standard Thunderbolt aren’t due to show until at least early 2012, however, or roughly a year after Apple went first.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.