Apple may be looking into creating external “quick charge” battery packs for devices

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Date: Friday, April 1st, 2011, 03:26
Category: Patents

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Apple has apparently shown an interest in developing an integrated external battery pack into its standard charging cable, providing extra power for devices like a MacBook or iPhone when a power outlet isn’t available.

Per AppleInsider, the potential future accessory was revealed this week in a new patent application published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The filing for “Power Adapter with Internal Battery” describes a wall charger with an integrated battery pack, allowing users to charge a device at home and give that device extra juice when on the go.

Apple’s application acknowledges that rechargeable external battery accessories do already exist. However, it notes that such accessories are not as advantageous as one that might be integrated with a standard charging cable.

“Such external batteries are generally cumbersome to use, at least because they must be unpacked for use and then repacked for storage,” Apple’s filing states of current options available on the market. “In addition, many users forget to bring the external battery in addition to the adapter while in transit.

“What is needed is a way to combine a power adapter and a battery so that a user does not have to carry an additional battery while traveling with a portable electronic device.”

Apple’s solution would include a “smart” charger with an integrated processor. This would allow the charger to intelligently determine how to distribute charge between the integrated adapter battery, and the battery on a device like a MacBook.

The hardware would also include the ability to share the status of the battery with the device it is charging. This way, users would be able to check the status of the external adapter battery and how much power it has left.

Such a device could be augmented by a “trickle source” for power, such as solar. And it could also include a USB port for charging a device like an iPhone or iPod. The accessory could also include a wireless adapter, allowing a MacBook or other device to access the power adapter even when it is not physically connected.

Apple’s application also notes that its external battery solution could employ current power adapter features, such as its patented MagSafe connector.

The need for such third-party external battery makers could be significantly lessened if Apple were to follow through on its pursuit of power adapters with integrated rechargeable batteries.

Apple first filed the patent application made public this week in September of 2009, and the proposed invention is credited to Duncan Kerr, David Robbins Falkenburg and Michael Nugent.

Apple releases Mac OS X Supplemental Update to resolve MacBook Air/iTunes issue under Mac OS X 10.6.7

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Date: Thursday, March 31st, 2011, 04:43
Category: MacBook Air, News, Software

Just over a week after releasing Mac OS X 10.6.7, Apple has issued a subsequent patch aimed at users of the new Late 2010, 13 inch MacBook Air to fix a system crash related to iTunes.

“This update addresses an issue that makes the system unresponsive when using iTunes,” Apple notes on its support page.

Per AppleInsider, the patch is just a 461 KB download and requires Mac OS X 10.6.7 Build 10J869 to be installed first. Both are available via Mac OS X’s Software Update feature.

The system lockup problem on new 13″ Air models appeared in Apple’s discussion forums after the release of Mac OS X 10.6.7 as an easy to replicate issue that resulted in having to force reset affected systems, indicating that the problem was inadvertently introduced with last week’s larger update.

If you’ve tried the update and noticed any differences, please let us know in the comments.

EFI firmware trick allows some 2008 MacBooks, MacBook Pros to address 8GB of RAM

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Date: Monday, March 7th, 2011, 04:46
Category: MacBook Pro, News

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Sometimes these things catch you by surprise in nifty ways.

Per the Apple Core, the cool cats at Other World Computing took another look at the memory limits in some of Apple’s late 2008 Core 2 Duo MacBook and MacBook Pros. Its testing found that a specific blend of updated firmware, Boot ROM and OS versions will let the notebooks handle a 8GB RAM upgrade.

According to a recent entry in the company blog, the tip says that machines running the latest update to Snow Leopard can address 8GB rather than the previous 6GB limit. It all depends on which version of the EFI Firmware Update and Boot ROM is installed.

The practical upshot of all this is that if you installed the EFI Update when it first came out, like we did, you would have gotten the old code, which meant your computer would only address 6GB properly. Those who didn’t upgrade until after Apple changed the updater got the newer firmware, which allowed proper addressing of 8GB.

Upon manually installing the “updated” version of the EFI Firmware in various test machines, the notebooks were able to address 8GB normally, without any crashing or slowdowns.

Users may have to download updated Boot ROMs, make sure they are running OS X Snow Leopard v10.6.6. According to the blog post, the machine must run the Mac OS X 10.6.6 software.

Rumor: Next-Gen MacBook Pro units to feature fast solid-state drives, larger trackpads

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Date: Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011, 04:05
Category: MacBook Pro, Rumor

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A new rumor attributed to unnamed sources says the coming refresh of MacBook Pros will feature larger trackpads and boot from SSD, even on models equipped with a conventional hard disk drive.

Per Boy Genius Report, the “new laptops will contain glass trackpads that are even larger than the pads found on current-generation MacBook Pro models.”

It then adds that “next bit of information doesn’t quite make sense to us,” but describes an 8 to 16GB Solid State Drive being used as the Mac OS X startup volume even on base models, which will retain a regular hard drive as well.

Higher end models are said to use SSD exclusively, much like Apple’s existing MacBook Air line.

The advantage to using a hybrid SSD/HDD configuration, of course, is that the main benefit afforded by SSD is read speed, while its greatest drawback is expense per gigabyte of storage. SSD also has issues related to rewriting data as efficiently as conventional mechanical hard drives.

By combining both types of drives, Apple could provide rapid boot and “instant on” features currently available on the iPad and MacBook Air, while also providing large amounts of general storage for power users’ large documents.

The report also noted the new models are about a half pound (0.2 kg) lighter than existing models. It also describes five different SKUs, harmonizing with existing reports on the new models.

Kind of strange stuff but you never know.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Apple patent suggests combined MagSafe power connector/data connector technology

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Date: Thursday, February 17th, 2011, 06:08
Category: MacBook, MacBook Pro, News, Patents

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Ok, this could be useful.

Per AppleInsider, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office this week published a new patent application from Apple named “Magnetic Connector with Optical Signal Path.” Discovered by AppleInsider, the document describes a single cable that would provide both power and data to a mobile device, like a MacBook Pro, using a single cable.

Like Apple’s existing, patented MagSafe adapters, the new cable would allow for “easy disengagement” due to the use of magnets to attach and properly secure the cable.

The application notes that there are two major needs the portable computers must satisfy if the notebook is to serve as a proper desktop replacement. The first is the need for a power source, since modern batteries often cannot get through an entire workday, while the second is the ability to transfer data over a physical connection.

“Presently, satisfying these two requires at least two connections to the mobile device; one for power and one for data transmission,” the application reads. “But including two (or more) connectors increases cost and consume space, typically along the side of the mobile device. It also requires the user to make two separate connections, thus limiting the usefulness and desirability of the mobile computing format.”

Apple’s filing also notes that the use of two cables can clutter a user’s workspace and degrade the mobile computing experience. More cables also increase the likelihood of a user tripping over one and potentially damaging their computer.

“Thus, what is needed are circuits, apparatus, and methods that provide a power and data transfer system that can supply both power and data to a laptop or other mobile computing device,” the application states.

The application suggests the presence of a fiber optic line inside a connector that looks much like the existing MagSafe power connector found on its line of MacBooks. But it would include additional “pins” inside the connector to allow data transfer for multiple types of inputs.

Potential input methods listed by Apple include USB, fiber-optic, local area networking (LAN) cables, DVI video, and DisplayPort. Corresponding connectors for these devices would be included on the power and data adapter.

In addition, Apple’s proposed invention would allow separate external devices to communicate with one another via the power and data adapter. For example, two or more USB devices could communicate with each other and transfer data between one another over the adapter.

Like a similar patent awarded to Apple last fall, the application revealed this week could offer a glimpse into the company’s potential plans with Intel’s high-speed Light Peak optical cable technology. Intel aims to offer mobile devices bandwidth of 10Gbps, scaling up to 100GBps over the next decade, with its next-generation cable.

Apple has shown great interest in Light Peak and has been “pushing” the chipmaker to bring it to market. Light Peak would allow Apple to roll networking, display, and peripheral cables all into one master cable, much like is described in the latest patent application.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available.

Verizon to offer $20/month “personal hotspot” WiFi tethering plan

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Date: Wednesday, January 26th, 2011, 06:06
Category: iPhone, News

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Verizon Wireless has finally confirmed that it will offer iPhone 4 with a US$20 “personal hotspot” WiFi tethering plan similar to what it currently offers its existing smartphone subscribers.

According to Macworld, Verizon’s mobile hotspot plan allows users, for an extra US$20 option on top of their data plan, to share their mobile 3G service with up to five WiFi devices (such as an iPad, iPod touch, MacBook, or any other WiFi device).

The iPhone 4 tethering plan has its own 2GB monthly cap, according to the report, with each additional gigabyte costing another US$20/month. Previous Verizon tethering plans cost US$30/month but delivered 5GB of data, in addition to the user’s data plan. That means the unlimited plan with tethering will cost a total of US$50, with 2GB for tethering and unlimited use of mobile data.

AT&T’s US$20 tethering plan currently only supports USB or Bluetooth tethering to a single device at once, and rather than offering a separate data pool, the plan counts use against the user’s plan. That means the 2GB data plan with tethering costs US$45 total, but still only offers 2GB of data per month.

Verizon earlier announced that its new CDMA iPhone 4 would only be offered with an unlimited data plan costing US$30, with no option for a limited use data plan as the company now allows its current smartphone users to choose.

In the future, Verizon says it will phase out the unlimited data plan, following AT&T toward tiered service plans. It has not detailed when it will do this, nor how much it will charge.

AT&T also announced earlier this month that it would be simplifying its texting plans to two options: 1000 messages for US$10/month, or unlimited texts for US$20/month.

Apple swapping in new inaccessible, “pentalobe” screws to new, repaired iPhone 4 units

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Date: Friday, January 21st, 2011, 05:58
Category: iPhone, News

If you were hoping to buy a new iPhone 4 and tinker with it, you might have some problems.

Per the mighty iFixIt, Apple has begun replacing the standard phillips head screws that hold together most iPhones sold in the U.S. with tamper-resistant “pentalobe” screws. The result is a device that most users are unable to open which also proves difficult for third party battery replacement services to replaces the battery in the device.

The pentalobe screw is a design controlled by Apple, and getting a screwdriver is very difficult, unless you’re an Apple Certified repair technician. Apple is apparently replacing the old screws with the new ones whenever an iPhone is brought into an Apple Store for repair, and users aren’t alerted to the change before or after it takes place.

Pentalobe Screw from iFixIt’s explanatory video

The new screws have begun to surface in recently shipped iPhones and iPhone 4 models shipped with the screw in Japan from the get-go.

These same screws are used on some MacBook Pro and Air models, and are likely to make their way to more Apple products in the future.

A video’s worth a couple thousand words and quite a bit of argument:


Apple’s Diabolical Plan to Screw your iPhone from iFixit on Vimeo.

Rumor: Apple could produce second-gen iPad with HSPA, EVDO models slated for March release date

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Date: Tuesday, December 28th, 2010, 06:16
Category: iPad, Rumor

It’s the second generations of a device where things get really interesting.

Per Electronista, Apple is looking to ship three separate versions of the next iPad and may ship earlier than expected, part suppliers said on Tuesday. The tablet should still have a pure Wi-Fi version but will serve 3G with both a regular HSPA version and an EVDO model for carriers like Verizon. The 3G versions have been unusually popular, at 60 to 65% of shipments and the extra wireless support would help fill demand.

The 3G push is corroborated by a slew of subsidized carrier plans that have been rolled out in recent months. Many cut the price of the iPad by half or less on a contract, and in some cases give the unit away for free.

Along with the known design change and extra wireless support, Apple is also reportedly taking steps to draw in Kindle buyers with changes to the screen. The display would get both an improved oleophobic (oil-resistant) screen to further reduce smudging as well as a more glare-resistant treatment to make it more suitable to the outdoors. A clue as to the anti-glare panel may have come with the new MacBook Air, whose display is still glossy but noticeably less reflective than on earlier MacBooks.

Apple might also be eager to advance the ship date beyond the original April target. Production shipments would start heading out as soon as late January, not the previously suggested February, and would see a small initial batch of 500,000 to 530,000 units arrive, 30% of which would be Wi-Fi, 40% HSPA and 30% EVDO. Additional shipments would continue right up to the release date, which could now include a March release date if Apple doesn’t have to push it back to a previously cited April target.

The release would be ambitious and could see Apple deliver as many as 40 million iPads in 2011, possibly taking hold of as much as 65% to 75% of the market worldwide. Such a ratio would be higher than expected by analysts, as many of them expect Android 3.0 to give Google’s partners a much stronger platform.

Stay tuned for additional details as they become available

Apple “Logo Antenna” patent unveiled

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Date: Friday, December 24th, 2010, 06:05
Category: News, Patents

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While embedding an antenna in the external body of an iPhone may not have been Apple’s best idea, hiding it behind the logo may be a little better thought out.

Per PatentlyApple, that’s the idea Apple wrote up in a patent application dated June 17th, 2009, back before we knew antennas and gates could be so wickedly conjoined.

This idea was also used for iMacs, which also have antennas peering through an apple-shaped hole to avoid any reception issues caused by an aluminum chassis. It looks to be a good solution, but not exactly a novel one. The idea was also incorporated in a similar 2003 patent from Dell also called “Logo Antenna,” the big difference being that while Apple’s logo forms a window for the antenna the logo in Dell’s patent actually is the antenna.

Rumor: Apple may rely on Intel’s Sandy Bridge line for next-gen notebook CPUs, AMD for graphics processing

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Date: Thursday, December 9th, 2010, 06:08
Category: Hardware, MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Rumor

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Per CNET, Apple will use Intel’s Sandy Bridge CPUs in its future notebooks. Interestingly enough, some of these forthcoming machines might rely solely on Intel’s chip for both general and graphical processing tasks.

That’s the word from the usual “sources familiar with Apple’s plans,” who expect “MacBook models with screen sizes of 13″ and below” to eschew the inclusion of a discrete GPU and ride their luck on the improved graphical performance of Intel’s upcoming do-it-all chip. There are currently no sub-13.3″ MacBooks, so the suggestion of one is surely intriguing.

The key point here is that NVIDIA’s being left out of the Apple party, because MacBook Pros are also predicted to switch up to AMD-provided graphics hardware. All these changes should be taking place with Apple’s next refresh, which is naturally expected at some point in the new year.

Even so, this could all be just a massive negotiating ploy to get NVIDIA to play nicer with its pricing, we’re inclined to believe Intel has finally gotten its integrated graphics up to a level where it pleases the discerning tastemakers at Apple.