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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

CrossOver updated to 11.0.3

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Date: Tuesday, April 10th, 2012, 14:43
Category: News, Software

CrossOver, the popular emulation program from CodeWeavers, has been updated to version 11.0.3. The new version, which is available as a demo, offers the following fixes and changes:

Application Enhancements:
– Fixed a bug whereby Microsoft Office 2010, Service Pack 1 refused to install. It should now install cleanly (an update of CrossTie files from the web-site may be necessary).

– Fixed a bug where Quicken 2012 would hang adding a new online account or updating a bank account.

– Fixed a bug where PowerPoint 2010 would refuse to play slideshows. Slideshows will now work in PowerPoint 2010.

CrossOver Enhancements:
– Fixes for (we hope!) the last outstanding problems with CrossOver registration / licensing.

– Improvements to Japanese and Russian translations.

CrossOver 11.0.3 retails for US$69.95 and requires Mac OS X 10.5 and or later and an Intel-based Mac to install and run.

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

Apple backs royalty-free licensing of “nano-SIM” cards, looks to incorporate the technology in future iOS devices

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Date: Monday, March 26th, 2012, 06:55
Category: Hardware, News

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It never hurts to play nice every so often.

Per Foss Patents, Apple will reportedly offer to license a new, ultra-compact SIM card technology to rival mobile devices makers if they agree back the format as the new industry standard for subscriber identification modules (SIM), a move which could pave the way for more compact and efficiently-designed iOS devices.

The pledge, said to have been outlined earlier this month in a letter to the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) penned by a senior member of Apple’s legal council, comes just days before the iPhone maker is expected to square off against opponents of the design at the organization’s Smart Card Platform Plenary in southern France.

Sized roughly a third smaller than existing MicroSIM cards found inside current iPads and iPhones, the proposed nano-SIM design — which is also noticeably thinner than that of MicroSIM — has already garnered the support of most European wireless carriers as part of their own proposals to the ETSI.

However, rival mobile device makers Nokia, RIM and Motorola have each voiced concerns in opposing standardization of nano-SIM — mainly out of fears Apple could eventually claim ownership of the patents behind the format, placing the company in a position of powered where it could command royalties from the broader industry.

The March 19th letter to the ETSI stands to invalidate these concerns, according to independent intellectual property analyst Florian Mueller, through “an unequivocal commitment to grant royalty-free licenses to any Apple patents essential to nano-SIM, provided that Apple’s proposal is adopted as a standard and that all other patent holders accept the same terms in accordance with the principle of reciprocity.”

“This shows that Apple is serious about establishing the nano-SIM standard rather than seeking to cash in on it,” he said. “Apple is a company that values its intellectual property and rarely gives it away for free. But as far as the evolution of SIM cards is concerned, Apple is clearly being generous and absolutely pro-competitive.”

In 2010, Apple was said to be working on an embedded SIM design that would allow users to select a carrier and service plan directly from their iPhone. But those plans allegedly upset the wireless operators, who felt they could be marginalized by such a move. As such, the Cupertino-based company compromised and began talking with carriers about designing a smaller SIM card that eventually emerged as the existing MicroSIM.

Apple’s continued push towards further miniaturization of SIM cards aims to reduce the space required to house the identification cards inside its future mobile devices, paving the way for devices that are either more compact or free up additional space for other components, such as larger batteries.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Some users complaining about Wi-Fi signal strength on third-generation iPad units

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Date: Wednesday, March 21st, 2012, 07:54
Category: iPad, News

A firmware update or two may be in order for the iPad 3.

Per the Apple Support Communities forum, a number of users have reported that wireless reception with their new iPad is notably inferior than with Apple’s previous iPad models.

In a growing thread, dozens of users have posted about their troubles with Wi-Fi connectivity on the new iPad. Reports claim that areas that previously achieved strong Wi-Fi signals are now weak, or have no reception at all.

Some users have also compared the reception of their new iPad to their iPhone or MacBook Pro. While the other Apple devices might receive a strong signal in a particular location, they say the new iPad has weak or no connectivity.

“MacBook Pro as well as iPhone 4S show ‘Full Fan’ — new iPad (16GB WIFI) shows ‘one dot’ or just flat drops the wifi connection (and is often unable to search and find it),” user ‘aka_srp’ wrote in a post over the weekend.

Another user, ‘gdtobm,’ said they bought a new iPad from Best Buy on last Friday’s launch and experienced Wi-Fi connectivity issues. The iPad was returned later that day, and the new model they received did not have any problems.

Still another person who posted to Apple’s forums, ‘Andrew Mclaughlin2,’ compared the performance of the new iPad to a first-generation iPad and an iPhone 4S. The tests conducted at Speedtest.net reportedly found that the third-generation iPad has half the throughput of the other devices.

Some of those posting in Apple’s forums have attempted to resolve their issues with AppleCare representatives, while others have talked to personnel at the company’s retail stores. One user, ‘HealthClif,’ said they switched back to a previous-generation iPad 2 after experiencing Wi-Fi connectivity issues with multiple replacements of the new iPad.

Complaints of Wi-Fi-related issues also cropped up with the launch of the first iPad in 2010. Two years ago, some users said they experienced weak Wi-Fi reception, dropped signals, and difficulty connecting to a network.

Apple eventually resolved those issues with an iPad software update. The company acknowledged that a “very small number of iPad users” had experienced issues with Wi-Fi connectivity on the first-generation iPad.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

FAA to take “fresh look” at permitted onboard electronics, may allow iPad use during all stages of flights

Posted by:
Date: Tuesday, March 20th, 2012, 08:39
Category: iPad, News

Maybe the FAA will get sensible sometime soon.

Per the New York Times, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has indicated it is taking a “fresh look” at the use of portable electronics on airplanes, which could potentially lead do devices like Apple’s iPad being allowed for use during takeoff and landing.

The FAA plans to explore allowing the use of tablets, e-readers and other devices on planes according to The New York Times. The FAA is not, however, interested in allowing fliers to be able to use smartphones in flight.

“With the advent of new and evolving electronic technology, and because the airlines have not conducted the testing necessary to approve the use of new devices, the FAA is taking a fresh look at the use of personal electronic devices, other than cellphones, on aircraft,” said Laura J. Brown, deputy assistant administrator for public affairs at the FAA.

While the administration is looking into the possibility of relaxing rules for the use of Apple’s iPad, any changes are unlikely to come soon. That’s because FAA rules require that each model of a device be tested on a separate flight with no passengers on the plane for each carrier.

That would leave testing to be done with the first-generation iPad, iPad 2, and the new iPad, as well as every version of the Amazon Kindle. And each device would have to be tested on every different model of plane in a carrier’s fleet.

While passengers cannot currently use their iPad during takeoff and landing, Apple’s touchscreen tablet has been approved for use as an electronic flight bag by pilots. Use of the iPad can allow pilots to replace their cumbersome 40-pound paper manuals with Apple’s thin and light tablet.

Now, major companies like American Airlines have begun to use the iPad in the cockpit, thanks to the FAA’s exception to its rules on “class 1″ electronic devices being used during takeoff and landing.

When the first iPad was released in 2010, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration decided that fliers who bring an iPad through security would be able to leave the device in their bag without removing it and placing it in a separate bin. Larger notebooks with more components must be removed so they can be adequately analyzed when passing through an airport security checkpoint.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Rumor: Apple may include Intel Sandy Bridge processors in near-term Mac Pro update

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Date: Friday, March 2nd, 2012, 07:27
Category: Mac Pro, Processors, Rumor

Even if you’re hankering for a new iPad 3 or an updated MacBook Air, there’s always your Mac Pro tower to keep in mind.

Per The Inquirer, Intel’s new Sandy Bridge update for its Xeon line of high end CPUs is due next week, suggesting the potential for Apple to refresh the Mac Pro, which hasn’t changed since the middle of 2010.

The new Xeon E5 chips incorporate the Sandy Bridge micro architecture that first appeared in MacBook Pros and iMacs early last year, followed by a mobile variant used by Apple in the MacBook Air last summer.

Apple’s latest Mac Pro models currently use Intel Xeon Bloomfield or Gulftown processors based on the Nehalem and closely related Westmere microarchitectures.

The latest release of OS X 10.7.3 Lion included support for AMD’s high end Tahiti graphic cards, which are expected to arrive in the market around the same time as Intel’s new Xeon chips.

However, sources famliar with the matter have said that Apple’s management, as far back as last May, were in limbo over whether to put any additional resources toward the Mac Pro product line.

Internal discussions at Apple were said to focus on the fact that sales of the high-end Mac Pro workstations have dropped off so considerably that the desktop machines are no longer particularly profitable for the company.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

AT&T customer wins in 3G throttling case, could open floodgates for similar lawsuits against carrier

Posted by:
Date: Monday, February 27th, 2012, 07:18
Category: 3G Wireless, iPhone, Legal, News

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Sometimes you CAN fight the giant and win.

Per the Associated Press, in a California court ruling on Friday, an AT&T customer who saw a reduction in his iPhone’s download speed due to high usage was awarded US$850 on claims that the telecom’s throttling measures are unfair to consumers.

Pro-tem Judge Russell Nadel handed down the decision in favor of Matt Spaccarelli in Ventura Superior Court in Simi Vally, bringing an end to the small claims case that was filed in January which asserted that AT&T unfairly reduces unlimited data plan users’ bandwidth speeds.

The ruling could affect the roughly 17 million subscribers, or a little under half of AT&T’s smartphone customer base, who pay for a so-called unlimited data plan that was first introduced alongside the original iPhone.

The nation’s second-largest mobile carrier ended its all-you-can-eat plan in 2010, however the company allowed existing users to keep their unlimited service on the condition that the privilege would end if they ever opted to go with a tiered contract. In other words, an unlimited subscriber cannot return to the endless data plan if ever they choose one of AT&T’s tiered options.

As smartphones grew in popularity after the launch of Apple’s handset and smartphones running Google’s Android OS, data bandwidth became increasingly scarce. In an attempt to stem the swelling tide of data users, AT&T and other telecoms made the decision to throttle the download speeds of the top five percent of “heavy users.”

An inherent issue with the new throttling model is that an unlimited plan subscriber can see speed reductions if they are deemed to be within the top five percent of heavy users, regardless of the amount of data used. Tiered subscribers are never throttled.

In Spaccarelli’s case, speed was reduced after about 1.5 GB to 2 GB of data usage during a particular billing cycle, which is far less than the identically priced 3 GB tiered plan. Currently, unlimited access to AT&T’s network costs US$30 per month for grandfathered-in customers, while tiered plans run US$20, US$30 and US$50 per month for 300 MB, 3 GB and 5 GB, respectively.

According to an in-court argument by AT&T area sales manager Peter Hartlove, the carrier has the right to modify or cancel a contract if data usage is so high that it bogs down the network.

In addition, a clause in contracts signed by data users prohibits customers from joining a class action suit or jury trial, and instead must take any grievance to arbitration or a small claims court.

The agreement also claims that if a plaintiff wins an arbitration case, the minimum award from AT&T would be $10,000. Although Spaccarrelli asked for the same compensation, the small claims court judge only awarded him for US$85 for each of the remaining 10 months of his contract.

In theory, every customer who has been throttled could potentially take the Dallas-based carrier to court if they feel that the speed reduction is a violation of rights.

AT&T’s attempt to clear data congestion has been vague since its introduction in 2011, as the system is based on a sliding scale and not a set bandwidth cap. User also won’t know if they are part of the top five percent until a warning message is received, and by that point they only have a few days of regular usage before seeing a reduction of speed.

So, let the floodgates open. If you have any thoughts on this, please let us know what’s on your mind in the comments.

Rumor: Apple to replace 30-pin iPhone, iPod, iPad connector with smaller alternative

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Date: Friday, February 24th, 2012, 07:10
Category: Hardware, iPad, iPhone, iPod, Rumor

It’s a rumor, but it involves replacing the classic 30-pin connector you know, love and are readily familiar with on your iPod, iPhone, and iPad with something new, so proceed to panic.

Also, begin hoarding food, as this means the apocalypse is well nigh.

An unsubstantiated rumor claims that Apple is looking to replace the venerable 30-pin iPhone, iPad and iPod dock connector with a smaller, space-saving successor that will possibly make a debut in the company’s next generation iPhone.

According to the iMore blog, unnamed sources have stated that the iPhone maker found a way to make the connector smaller in 2010 to help accommodate for the iPhone 4’s larger battery.

Another factor is the connector’s role in data transfer. With the advent of iCloud, AirPlay and the energy-sipping Bluetooth 4.0, a future iPhone may only need a cable for charging purposes.

It is unclear what would become of the huge ecosystem of existing “Made for iDevice” products, which is a lucrative business for both Apple and third-party companies, as it would be made obsolete by a redesigned connector.

Details remain scarce at this time, but check back and we’ll get information up as soon as it becomes available.

Apple patent shows effort to develop thinner keyboards

Posted by:
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.

AT&T announces data plan price increases

Posted by:
Date: Thursday, January 19th, 2012, 07:13
Category: iPhone, News

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You might not like this.

Per AppleInsider, AT&T has introduced new data plans for smartphone and tablet users, adding additional cap space but also charging customers more. The new plans max out at 5GB with tethering for US$50 per month.

A press release on Wednesday stated that the new rates that will take effect on Sunday, Jan. 22, marking the first change to the company’s data plans since 2010.

“Customers are using more data than ever before,” said David Christopher, Chief Marketing Officer of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets. “Our new plans are driven by this increasing demand in a highly competitive environment, and continue to deliver a great value to customers, especially as we continue our 4G LTE deployment.”

The new smartphone pricing is basically a US$5 surcharge for a 1 GB bump in data for DataPro users, while DataPlus subscribers will get an extra 100 MB for the same price.

Tablet owners will see a reshuffling of options as the previous 2 GB DataConnect plan is to be replaced a 3 GB per month flavor previously only available on a two-year contract. An additional 5 GB plan will also be added for US$50 per month and the lowest 250 MB plan remains unchanged.

Current subscribers can keep their existing plans or opt in to one of the new tiers when the program launches on Sunday.

Smartphone plans are as follows:
– AT&T DataPlus 300MB: US$20 for 300MB

– AT&T DataPro 3GB: US$30 for 3GB

– AT&T DataPro 5GB: US$50 for 5GB, with mobile hotspot / tethering

Additional data pricing remains at US$10 per gigabyte for the DataPro plans and US$20 per additional 300 MB for DataPlus customers.

Tablet data tiers have changed to:
– AT&T DataConnect 250MB: US$14.99 for 250MB

– AT&T DataConnect 3GB: US$30 for 3GB

– AT&T DataConnect 5GB: US$50 for 5GB

Overage charges only apply to 30-day tablet prices and include US$14.99 for and extra 250MB with AT&T DataConnect 250 MB, and US$10 per additional gigabyte for DataConnect 3 GB and 5 GB.

The new plans reflect an upward trend in cellphone and tablet data pricing from U.S. carriers as their networks strain under the pressure of a growing customer base.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.