Apple looking to replace IR sensors with sonar technology in next-gen devices

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Date: Thursday, October 18th, 2012, 07:52
Category: Hardware, iPhone, News, Patents

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Look at it this way: sonar’s been around for a while.

And it’s always been nifty.

Per the United States Patent and Trademark Office, an Apple patent application published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday describes a system that may one day replace the infrared proximity sensors deployed in current iPhones with sonar-like technology.

Apple’s invention for “Passive proximity detection” negates the need for the current IR sensor, replacing it with a system that can detect and process sound waves to determine how far away an object is from a portable device.

Much like passive echolocation or a loose interpretation of passive sonar, the filing describes a system that takes two sound wave samples, a “before” and an “after,” and compares the two to determine if an external object’s proximity to the device changed. “Sampling” occurs when a transducer, such as a microphone, picks up ambient sound and sends a corresponding signal to the device’s processor for analysis.

The invention relies on basic acoustic principles as applied to modern electronics. For example, a microphone’s signal equalization curve from an audio source changes when the device moves towards or away from an object, which “variably reflect[s] elements of the sound wave.”

This effect may be noticed when sound is reflected by soft material as opposed to a hard surface. Generally, sound reflected off the soft surface will seem muted when compared to the same sound reflected off a hard surface located at the same distance and angle from an audio transducer and a sound source.

In one of the invention’s embodiments, two microphones are situated at different planes on a device, and detect the subtle changes in broad-audio-spectrum caused by interference when a sound wave interacts with an object.

To relate this to a common phenomenon, when a sea shell is held up to one’s ear a resonant cavity is formed that amplifies ambient sounds. This hi-Q filtering results in the ocean like sounds one hears.

In another example, response signals produced by two microphones located at either end of a device can be compared to determine if an object is nearer to one or the other. For example, when a user’s face is close to the top of a device, as is usual when talking on the phone, the microphone located near the ear will produce a different reactance ratio than the microphone located at the device’s base.

Basically, the signals from two transducers, or microphones, detect slight changes in ambient sound and sends corresponding signals to a processor which then compares the two to determine whether an object is in close proximity to either of the mics.

Monitoring of the microphones can be live or set to take samples at predetermined intervals, such as after a user begins to speak. Placement of the microphones can also be tweaked, and in some cases can be located next to each other.

Finally, a more active detection method is proposed, where an internal speaker generates noise, taking the place of ambient sound waves.

As portable electronic devices become increasingly smaller, the need to develop space-saving components, or to combine parts to serve a number of uses, becomes more pressing. Such is the case with Apple’s latest iPhone 5, a device that packs 4G LTE, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth communications, a battery that can last for days, a 4-inch Retina display, two cameras, and a litany of other features into a chassis only 7.6 mm deep.

Space is already at a premium with the iPhone, as evidenced by the new Lightning connector, which Apple’s Worldwide Marketing chief Phil Schiller said was needed to create such a thin device. Moving forward, the company is rumored to incorporate near field communications (NFC) for e-wallet payments, which will take up even more precious room.

It remains to be seen if Apple will one day employ the passive proximity detection technology in a consumer device, however the iPhone is a platform ripe for deployment as it already boasts three mics for noise canceling and call quality purposes.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple granted patent for unauthorized iPhone usage, detection and reporting technology

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Date: Tuesday, October 16th, 2012, 08:24
Category: News, Patents

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This could be useful.

Among a series of patents granted to Apple on Tuesday, an interesting invention regarding iPhone security was discovered, with the property describing various methods to protect sensitive data if an unauthorized user gets hold of the device.

Per AppleInsider and the United States Patent and Trademark Office, U.S. Patent No. 8,289,130 for “Systems and methods for identifying unauthorized users of an electronic device” offers a unique security solution to the ever-present problem of having one’s iPhone lost or stolen.

The patent’s begins by stating that “This is generally directed to identifying unauthorized users of an electronic device,” but goes far beyond any identification technology currently available in Apple’s handset. For example, one embodiment of the invention calls for heartbeat monitoring, which can be used to determine whether the person holding an iPhone is its owner.

From the patent abstract:
In some embodiments, an unauthorized user of the electronic device can be detected by identifying particular activities that may indicate suspicious behavior. In some embodiments, an unauthorized user can be detected by comparing the identity of the current user to the identity of the owner of the electronic device. When an unauthorized user is detected, various safety measures can be taken.

The patent essentially covers three main operations: the detection of an unauthorized user; the gathering of information of an unauthorized user; and the transmission of an alert notification to the electronic device’s owner containing said information.

As mentioned above, a person’s heartbeat can be used to determined whether he or she is the owner of a device, though more conventional methods are also described, such as taking a photograph or matching voice recordings. Perhaps most effective are the patent’s other embodiments in which an unauthorized user is identified through a number of actions. For example, “entering an incorrect password a predetermined number of times in a row, hacking of the electronic device, jailbreaking of the electronic device, unlocking of the electronic device, removing a SIM card from the electronic device, or moving a predetermined distance away from a synced device” can all be used as means of detection.

When a non-owner is identified, the device can enter an information gathering mode in which location, photographs, voice recordings, screenshots, keylogs, and internet usage are stored. Another option is to restrict the phone’s functions and erase sensitive information when an unauthorized user takes control of the device.

Finally, an alert is sent to a “responsible party,” such as the device owner or police, containing a predetermined message like “Warning, your electronic device may have been stolen.” In addition, the alert, sent via text, email, instant message, or over the internet, can contain the information the device gathered when in the hands of the unauthorized user.

In some embodiments, near field communications, or NFC, can be employed to pair the handset with a key fob or similar device. If the phone moves far enough away from the key fob, it will issue a warning which will turn into a formal alert if the device moves a substantial distance.

As with most Apple patents, it is unclear if the technology will be deployed in an upcoming product, however recent additions to iOS like Find My iPhone illustrate the company’s focus on device security.

Cool stuff and it’ll be interesting to see what comes of it.

Apple releases version 1.0.1 firmware update for seventh-generation iPod nano

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Date: Friday, October 12th, 2012, 08:02
Category: iPod Nano, News, Software

You’ve had your spiffy new seventh-generation iPod nano for a day or two.

Now let’s update that sucker.

Per iLounge, Apple released version 1.0.1 of the new iPod nano’s software.

The new software only mentions “Support for iPod nano (7th generation)” in its release notes, offering little information as to what issues, if any, are addressed with version 1.0.1. Speculation points to tweaks to make the device compatible with the most current version of iTunes, however the specific problems regarding the device’s interoperability with Apple’s media management software is unknown.

Users will be able to update their new iPod nanos upon delivery by simply plugging the unit into their computer, which should automatically recognize the device and bring up the “Download and Update” new iPod software prompt.

Apple announced the seventh-generation media player in September alongside the iPhone 5, fifth-generation iPod touch and newly-designed EarPods headphones. The most recent nano ditches the last-generation’s small square form factor for a more iPod touch-esque layout, complete with 2.5-inch mutli-touch display, integrated Bluetooth connectivity and the reversible Lightning connector.

If you’ve tried the iPod nano with its updated firmware and have any feedback to offer, please let us know in the comments.

Leaked “iPad mini” display case instructions hint at smaller iPad for holiday season

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Date: Thursday, October 11th, 2012, 08:05
Category: iPad, Rumor

If it’s not the suppliers that offer interesting hints as to upcoming products, it’s the retailers.

Per AppleInsider, one retailer is preparing in advance for the rumored device by sending out in-store displays to sell accessories to customers.

A leaked image shows instructions for standalone displays designed to sell iPad mini accessories. The instruction manual comes from a large box that apparently includes parts from which the future displays will be assembled.

The tipster indicated that the pages labeled “Amazon/Apple Tablet Display Parts List” came from a box with a note attached, telling employees not to look inside. They said the papers fell out of the box, revealing the contents of the recently delivered package.

Exactly what store the display parts were shipped to was not provided, but the design shown in the illustration looks similar to in-store displays seen at major retailers such as Best Buy or Target.

The shipment comes after a list of dozens of supposed “iPad mini” cases were revealed in a spreadsheet on Wednesday. That list of products suggested that third-party accessory makers Belkin, Kensington and Trust all have cases for Apple’s smaller iPad ready to go.

The fact that the name “iPad Mini” is included on the design of the accessory display should not be taken as a confirmation that it will be the final name of the rumored product. Because the name of the iPhone 5 was not known as case-makers built accessories based on leaked schematics, many cases available for sale at launch came in boxes that simply advertised they were for the “New iPhone.”

Case makers have bet — and lost — on rumored Apple product designs before. In 2011, some third-party accessory makers banked on a completely redesigned look for Apple’s next iPhone, but that October the iPhone 4S debuted with a design nearly identical to its predecessor, the iPhone 4.

Similarly, one report this week claimed that a major accessory maker had halted production of cases designed for the so-called “iPad mini”. Manufacturing of those cases was reportedly stopped because of an apparent “design change” that caught the manufacturer-off guard.

Apple is expected to hold an event later this month to officially unveil a smaller iPad with a 7.85-inch display. The company is said to have ordered more than 10 million units for sale this holiday shopping season.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Flip4Mac updated to 3.0.0.126

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Date: Thursday, October 11th, 2012, 07:33
Category: News, Software

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Early Wednesday, software developer Telestream has released version 3.0.0.126 of Flip4Mac, its QuickTime components package which allows for Windows Media files to be viewed, imported and converted under Mac OS X. The new release, a 62.1 megabyte download, includes the following fixes and changes:

New Features:
– Introduced the new Flip Player application for playing, editing, and transcoding video and audio. Flip Player supports unique features such as dimming the background, cropping video, and creation of iPhone ringtones. It also supports exporting to Apple and Telestream applications, exporting to Apple devices, and Windows Media. Flip Player replaces the WMV Player application.

– All software is now signed with a digital certificate from Apple to address security and anti-malware requirements in Gatekeeper.

– Added support for the application/x-ms-wmp mime type.

– Added 64-bit Core Audio support for OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion.

Fixes:
– Flip4Mac will now continue playing even if it encounters corrupted audio packets, as long as there are enough valid packets to prevent a perceptible problem with the audio.

– Fixed a bug that prevented Flip4Mac from opening local wvx files.

– Fixed a bug that prevented MMS stream playback and resulted in a -19160 error.

– Fixed potential crashes and memory leaks.

– Fixed various issues with QuickTime X Player 10.2 in OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion.

Flip4Mac 3.0.0.126 is available for free but can go as high as US$179 depending on the version purchased. The new version requires an Intel-based Mac running Mac OS X 10.7 or later to install and run.

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

Rumor: Microsoft Office to arrive for iOS, Android in March of 2013

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Date: Wednesday, October 10th, 2012, 08:33
Category: iOS, Rumor, Software

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The plus side: This is cool and interesting and, if true, could be outstanding.

The negative side: Someone’s probably getting fired over this leak.

Per Czech web site IHNED (translated by The Verge), Petr Bobek, a Microsoft product manager in the Czech Republish, reportedly indicated that native versions of Office for iOS and Android will arrive next year [updated]

Bobek stated that his company’s market leading productivity suite will make its way to Apple’s devices, as well as those running Google Android, sometime after March of 2013. The details came from a press release issued by Microsoft’s Czech Republic Team.

“In addition to Windows, Office will also be available on other operating systems: Windows Phone, Windows RT, Mac OS, Android, iOS and Symbian,” the company’s statement said.

The press release separately noted that a new version of Office Web Apps will also be available. In a statement, Microsoft’s U.S. arm noted that the company previously indicated Office Mobile will be available on iOS and Android, in addition to Windows Phone.

Rumors of a version of Microsoft Office for iPad have swirled for the past year, and tablet publication The Daily even showed a screenshot of the rumored application. One report from late May pegged a specific release date for Office for iPad: Nov. 10, 2012.

However, Wednesday’s statements from Microsoft’s Czech team would suggest that date will not be met, with a launch instead coming in early 2013.

It was also reported earlier this year that Microsoft was working on a new native iOS application for Outlook Web App, called “OWA Mobile Client for iOS,” that will offer compatibility with Exchange 2012 mailboxes. It, along with a new version of the Lync application for iOS, will reportedly feature Microsoft’s Metro interface, just like Office for iPad is expected to do.

Rumors have said that Office for iPad will allow users to create and edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. Dedicated Outlook functionality is not expected to be included in Office for iPad.

While earlier reports focused on Office support for the iPad, the mention of iOS in the overseas Microsoft press release suggests that the productivity suite could also be coming to Apple’s iPhone and iPod touch. Apple’s own iWork suite, including Pages, Numbers and Keynote, offers universal support across portable iOS devices.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple begins shipping Lightning adapter orders

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Date: Monday, October 8th, 2012, 08:05
Category: Hardware, iPhone, News

With any luck, that Lightning adapter you ordered should be arriving soon.

Per MacRumors, Apple on Monday sent out emails notifying a number of Australian customers that their Lightning to 30-pin Adapter orders had shipped, with an expected arrival date coming almost four weeks after sales of the iPhone 5 went live in September.

At least one buyer of Apple’s new adapter, which is currently only compatible with the iPhone 5, told MacRumors that his shipment is due for delivery on Oct. 9, more than three weeks after the handset went up for preorder in mid-September.

According to Apple, the move away from the legacy 30-pin plug to the 80 percent-smaller proprietary Lightning connector was required to build devices as slim and compact as the iPhone 5 and products from the next-generation iPod line. To help ease the transition to the new format, which effectively renders nearly a decade’s worth of “Made for iDevice” accessories obsolete, Apple is offering the US$29 Lightning to 30-pin Adapter along with a US$39 cabled version.

The reversible Lightning port dynamically assigns pins and uses only those signals required by a connected accessory, such as audio or USB data for a dock. The advanced protocol also carries authentication hardware, making it difficult for third-party manufacturers to build accessories without paying royalties to Apple.

It appears that Apple’s Lightning adapters will be indispensable for users tied to their accessories for some time, as Apple is said to have made significant changes to the “Made for iPhone” rules expected to be presented in November, allowing little to no room for accessory makers to build new products before Christmas.

If you’ve gotten your Lightning adapter and can offer any sort of feedback on it, please let us know how your experience went in the comments section.

Two new patents show Apple looking into “shake to print” technology for iOS devices

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Date: Friday, October 5th, 2012, 07:02
Category: News, Patents, Software

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This could lead to something interesting.

Per FreePatentsOnline and AppleInsider, a pair of new patent filings reveal a concept from Apple that would allow users to select custom settings for printing by moving or interacting with an iPhone or iPad in unique ways.

The patents, entitled Systems and Methods for Defining Print Settings Using Device Movements, and Systems and Methods for Defining Print Settings Using an Input Interface, respectively, describe a system in which a user could shake their iPhone back and forth to enable a print settings mode. In another implementation, a user could shake their iPad to cancel a print job.

Apple already has a system-wide “Shake to Undo” feature in iOS that uses a device’s built-in accelerometer. The company also offers “Shake to Shuffle” when playing music.

With Apple’s new concept, users could also change settings — such as print orientation — by rotating or moving an iOS device. For example, viewing a photo in portrait mode could then send the picture to a printer with the same layout.

The patent application also goes beyond motion and orientation of the device, and presents new ways that users could interact with an iPad to select printer settings. One illustration shows how users could select a range of pages to print from a document, while a template selector would show a user how their content would appear on various paper sizes.

When viewing multiple pages of a document at once on a touchscreen device, a user could also use their finger to draw across the pages and signify an order in which the pages should be printed.

The applications, made public this week, were first filed with the USPTO in March of 2011. The proposed inventions are credited to Howard A. Miller, David Gelphman, and Richard Blanchard Jr.

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: Apple to send out “iPad mini” media event invitations on October 10th, hold event on October 17th

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Date: Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012, 06:24
Category: iPad, Rumor

There could be a nifty media event in which Apple unveils its rumored, smaller iPad in 15 days.

Or not.

According to Fortune, Apple 2.0 reported on Monday that members of the press will be invited to the event on Wednesday, Oct. 10. That would suggest the event itself would be held a week later on Wednesday, Oct. 17, as Apple typically gives a week’s notice with its invitations.

If Apple were to follow recent launch schedules as it has done with the iPhone 5 and new iPad, the so-called “iPad mini” could then go on sale on Friday, Oct. 26.

Monday’s rumor comes from an unidentified “major Apple investor” who spoke with Elmer-DeWitt and cited “multiple sources” for the date invitations will allegedly go out.

Reports first surfaced in August that Apple was planning to hold a media event this month to introduce a smaller and lighter iPad. The new product is believed to feature a screen that will measure 7.85 inches diagonally, smaller than the 9.7-inch display found on all iPad models to date.

Leaked components and device mockups have also suggested the device will have a smaller bezel around the screen than the current iPad, as users will be able to hold it easily with one hand. The smaller iPad has also been shown with Apple’s new Lightning connector, featured on the iPhone 5 and updated iPod touch and iPod nano.

As always, stay tuned for additional details as they become available.