Apple Inc. of Cupertino, CA, is a major player in the growing global market for handheld mobile devices, and has gained a major share of the market through it’s iPhone and iPad devices. Over the past few years, however, the smartphone market has gotten crowded, and lot of litigation between Apple and one of its main competitors, Samsung. At the same time, a lot of interesting crossovers between Samsung and Apple devices have been being reported by technology publications from around the world. The vituperative relationship between the two companies has gotten even darker in recent days, with Samsung accusing Apple of race-baiting in order to win litigation.
This week on IPWatchdog’s Companies We Follow series, we’re taking a close look at both of these manufacturers, starting with Apple. We’ve compiled a great assortment of patent applications and issued patents from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to give our readers an idea of Apple’s recent developments in the mobile device world.
Today’s featured patent application describes a system of collecting movement data from mobile devices so as to better compile real-time traffic data for mobile users. This data collection would not interfere with normal use and provides a vast improvement on current methods of providing traffic data. We’ve also noticed a few other patent applications detailing mapping application improvements as well as a method for setting quiet hours on a device to prevent notification sounds at inopportune moments.
We also take a close look at some issued patents that lay out some intriguing software and hardware improvements for Apple’s mobile devices. One patent protects a method of detecting hand gestures for interacting with a touchscreen device. Another issued patent describes a system of automatically updating profile images on a user’s device for various contacts. Finally, we noticed a patent to protect a piece of wearable hardware that lets a user view digital content privately through goggles.
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Harvesting Traffic Information From Mobile Devices
U.S. Patent Application No. 20130332056
All over the world and especially across America, people engage in a daily commute to work that can often be very lengthy. When traveling 10 or 20 miles, or perhaps even longer, having real-time knowledge of traffic conditions that affect an individual’s planned route can help a driver miss traffic jams and shave useful minutes off the commute time.
Traffic reports from radio stations do provide some helpful pieces of information, but beyond severe traffic jams or accidents on local highways, there isn’t much information provided that’s useful for an individual route. Some traffic apps on mobile devices are able to provide estimated traffic based on historical data, but that isn’t as useful as real-time data. However, collecting data in real time is expensive, and no cost-effective means of gathering this information have been created as of yet.
Apple has filed this patent application with the USPTO in the hopes of protecting a system that can collect current traffic data in a cost-effective manner. The system collects speed, directional heading and positional data from GPS sensors installed on mobile devices, relying on the ubiquity of smartphones and similar devices on the road. By utilizing the GPS sensors, which are typically on when a device is running, Apple’s system can reap data in a non-intrusive manner.
The application describes certain features of the technology that should further benefit device owners and prevent data collection from imposing on a user. For instance, the system will only communicate with a device if the battery power is above a certain threshold, or if the device is charging. Additionally, the system may only collect data from devices if those devices are being carried along at or above a certain speed, or if the device has already contributed a certain quota of data.
Claim 1 of this Apple patent applications would give the company the right to protect:
“A non-transitory machine readable storage medium storing a program for collecting real-time traffic information from a mobile device, the computer program comprising sets of instructions for: identifying, at the mobile device, an open data communication channel; identifying an application currently executing on the mobile device that produces global position (GPS) data; transmitting traffic data derived from the produced GPS data to a traffic server by using the identified open data communication channel.”
Other Patent Applications
Judging by other recent patent applications published by the USPTO, we at IPWatchdog are noticing a definite interest on the part of Apple in improving mobile mapping applications for iPhone and related device owners. For example, U.S. Patent Application No. 20130332057, filed under the title Representing Traffic Along a Route, would protect a system of displaying traffic indicators along a route for mobile device mapping applications. This traffic indicator, which would run parallel to roads displayed on a mapping application, would differentiate between light traffic and heavy jams.
Next up is U.S. Patent Application No. 20130332113, entitled Context Aware Map Application, would protect a system of detecting that a device is in a moving vehicle and automatically bringing up an associated navigation app. The patent application explains that the innovation here relates to techniques and systems for utilizing a portable electronic device to monitor, process, present and manage data captured by a series of sensors to provide a context aware map.
Apple is also trying to protect a few other innovations related to other application improvements for the corporation’s suite of mobile devices. All iPhone users may very well sleep a lot better thanks to U.S. Patent Application No. 20130332721, which is titled Quiet Hours for Notifications. This application would protect a system allowing users to set quiet hours so that all alarms and notifications are turned off for a regular interval, like sleeping hours or for scheduled business meetings. U.S. Patent Application No. 20130332850, titled Presenting E-Mail on a Touch Device, describes a method of cleaning up the headings and other materials included on long e-mail chain conversations in order to reduce redundant text from previous messages, which is often attached to e-mail responses.
Issued Patents of Note
As with every column in IPWatchdog’s Companies We Follow series, we want to spend a good deal of time looking at the true measure of Apple’s strength in intellectual property: its patent holdings. Recently, the USPTO has awarded the corporation a number of patents related to the company’s mobile device technologies. With these patents under its belt, Apple is continuing to stake its claim as the world’s top provider of mobile device hardware and software.
We’ve noticed an interesting group of issued patents assigned to Apple that protect some interesting innovations which improve user interface experiences for mobile software. Mapping applications for mobile devices will be improved by the system described in U.S. Patent No. 8611326, entitled Location Histories for Location Aware Devices. This system collects location information over time across wireless networks and uses it to pinpoint a user’s location later when accessing a mapping application or other program that could benefit from location information. U.S. Patent No. 8606854, which is titled System and Method for Opportunistic Image Sharing, protects a method of automatically analyzing images for various uses, like updating profile information for mobile device contacts. Gesture interactions with mobile devices are the focus of U.S. Patent No. 8612856, titled Proximity Detector in Handheld Device. The user interface described here would be able to detect an object in the space above the screen, allowing a hand to interact with a touchscreen device without touching the screen.
A few interesting hardware patents have also been issued by the USPTO recently to the Apple Inc. corporation. Improvements to the screen creation process for mobile devices, laid out in U.S. Patent No. 8603574, which is titled Curved Touch Sensor, will create a stronger curved screen through an annealing process. The annealing process described in this patent can heat the plastic screen substrate past 150 degrees Fahrenheit without the risk of screen deformation.
Finally, we took a look at U.S. Patent No. 8605008, entitled Head-Mounted Display. This patent protects a head-mounted goggle display that allows users to view digital media provided by an electronic device. This wearable device can in certain embodiments “the outer cover and frame may be designed to resemble ski or motorcycle goggles (e.g., covering only the user’s eyes, with a foam layer against the user’s face).” This ski-mask embodiment is shown in Figure 7A.