Apple Seeks Patent for GUI to Help Users with Special Needs

Each week, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office publishes patent applications, and computer and electronics developer Apple Inc. always has at least a few published patent applications. In this column, we’ll look at some of these published applications, looking for hints as to what new devices or features Apple may have in store for users in the future.

In this edition we explore published patent applications relating to a graphical user interface that will assist users with special needs, such as vision or hearing problems, an ambitious system for generating electricity from stored wind energy, as well as various devices, systems and software more commonly associated with Apple’s various portable electronic devices.

Cross process accessibility

U.S. patent application #20120331411 describes a system of multiple application interfacing designed to help users with special needs, such as vision or hearing problems. The interface system is described as a graphical user interface (GUI) that displays two interface elements: one window which runs a primary application or program, and a second window within the primary application that runs a secondary application. This new computer design would allow a user to send commands to either of the two programs by using the one application interface.

This design innovation only affects the programs GUI, which the user interacts with directly through their monitor or touchscreen, and not the programs themselves. This is being created specifically for users with physical handicaps who need to use an accessibility client, such as a text-to-speech converter for visually impaired users, to aid computer interaction. Often, these programs are isolated or “sandboxed,” making them incompatible with other programs that an impaired user is trying to operate.

Claim 1 in the published application seeks protection for:

A computer-implemented method comprising: displaying a first user interface element, wherein the first user interface element is associated with a first application; receiving a request to display a second user interface element, wherein the second user interface element is associated with a second application and is associated with the first user interface element; providing, from the first application, user interface information associated with the first user interface element to the second application; receiving, at the first application, user interface information associated with the second user interface element from the second application; and displaying the second user interface element.


On-demand generation of electricity from stored wind energy

The use of wind-generated electrical power has grown in recent years as more cities seek to improve their electrical sustainability. However, the amount of electricity generated may not always be dependable if a turbine receives less wind than usual. This usually requires municipalities to retain coal or gas power and use wind-generated electricity only to supplement the power plants that are draining natural resources.

Apple’s patent application for a new system of electricity generation (U.S. Patent No. 20120326445) seeks to eliminate this variable nature of wind-generated power by creating an on-demand system of energy storage. This system would not need to be manually operated to take advantage of sudden increases in wind speed. Energy generated from a wind turbine’s rotating blades would be transferred into a low-heat capacity fluid, then transferred into a working fluid which converts the heat into electricity. Storing this energy for later use could help wind power operators from losing needed energy during periods of low wind, making wind power much more reliable for widespread use.

Claim 1 in the published application seeks protection for:

A system for generating electricity, comprising: a rotation-transmission mechanism, wherein a first end of the rotation-transmission mechanism is operatively connected to a rotor shaft of a wind turbine, and wherein a second end of the rotation-transmission mechanism is operatively connected to a set of rotating blades; the set of rotating blades immersed in a low-heat-capacity fluid, wherein the rotating blades are configured to convert rotational energy from the wind turbine into heat in the low-heat-capacity fluid; an insulated vessel containing the low-heat-capacity fluid, wherein the insulated vessel is configured to retain the heat in the low-heat-capacity fluid; a heat-transfer mechanism configured to selectively transfer the heat from the low-heat-capacity fluid to a working fluid; and an electric generator configured to use the transferred heat in the working fluid to generate electricity.


Integrated media jukebox

Apple’s media player applications may start coming equipped with fitness trackers. U.S. patent application #20120331105 is a divisional of a patent application submitted in 2006, so this has been a work in progress for Apple Inc. This new program would be installed on iPhones and other portable media devices and store physiologic data recorded from the user. In the patent’s background description, Apple states that it hopes the physiologic data device would work digitally in the same way a pedometer or wrist-mounted exercise tracker gains user information.

The application tracking physiologic data also has a wireless component, allowing the program to communicate with remote computer servers. This would allow the device to sync incoming fitness data with tracking software in real time. For example, a runner could go out and finish a daily routine and then go home and check the vitals that were just recorded by the media player.

Claim 1 in the published application seeks protection for:

A method for handling playlists and workout templates for a portable media player, the method comprising: in a host computer, performing operations for: providing, to the portable media player, a workout template that defines exercise cues to be provided to a user of the portable media player; and providing, to the portable media player, a playlist that defines media playback to be provided to the user of the portable media player, wherein the playlist is associated with the workout template.


Microphone headset failure detecting and reporting

Many use portable devices to watch movies or listen to music, and earbuds or headphones are the choice of many, especially those owning smaller devices without superior audio speakers. Many also use headset microphones to talk instead of craning their head into the phone. Now it looks like Apple is trying to score points with these users by alerting them to potential hardware failure so they can replace their speakers.

This system, described in U.S. patent application #20120328116, is created by adding a few detection circuits to the audio input or output jack on a mobile device. These circuits receive data from the headset measuring both the hardware’s temperature and the speaker’s bias signal. A loosely connected wire, or organic buildup within the speaker cable, can be detected in this way. The patent also contains descriptions for a system of sending failure notifications to a remote supply management system server, which could be used to let a manufacturer know which of its customers will need new equipment soon.

Claim 1 in the published application seeks protection for:

A mobile device to connect to a headset having a microphone bias signal line, the mobile device comprising: a network interface to enable a failure notification be sent from the mobile device to a remote supply management system; and a microphone circuit failure detection circuit to detect a failure of a microphone circuit of the headset by measuring, one of a microphone bias signal and a temperature of the headset, and then signal that a failure notification be transmitted to the remote supply management system using the network interface.


Interface extender for portable electronic devices

The iPhone may seem compact, but its enhanced functionality requires an increase in electrical connections within the device, which typically means more wires. The invention proposed by U.S. patent application #20120331194 would reduce the number of wires needed to connect electronic components by connecting many of the peripheral components within the device through an interface hub connected to a high-speed link.

This increased space efficiency within mobile devices could allow those devices to have even more operating functions in later generations. By removing wires to clear out clutter from inside the device, more printed circuit boards (PCBs) running advanced computer programs can be installed. The more PCBs a device has, the more computer functions it can run while operating.

Claim 1 in the published application seeks protection for:

A system for facilitating communication between components in a portable electronic device, comprising: a first hub that couples a first set of interfaces to a high-speed link, wherein the first hub is configured to: receive a communication from a first component through a first interface in the first set of interfaces; and transmit the communication through the high-speed link; and a second hub that couples a second set of interfaces to the high-speed link, wherein the second hub is configured to: receive the communication from the high-speed link; and transmit the communication to a second component through a second interface in the second set of interfaces, wherein transmitting communications between the first set of interfaces and the second set of interfaces through the high-speed link reduces a number of wires required to transmit the communications.


Other Apple patent applications published on December 27, 2012, include:

  • #20120331341 – A processor designed specifically to determine where a fault occurs when performing a scalar read operation. The processor works to either mask the fault or run the program with the fault.
  • #20120330642 – This software patent is described as a language translator that uses a set of order-based declarative rules to provide translations. The application states that this software could be used to provide instant translation for an audio file from one language into another while the track is played.
  • #20120329321 – A simplified connector receptacle allowing one computer or device to connect with many other devices through a cable connection. This would reduce the amount of connecting ports that must be installed on computers or similar devices to connect with many different devices.



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Join the Discussion

One comment so far.

  • [Avatar for chemE]
    January 5, 2013 09:39 am

    The wind energy patent is a horrible idea for energy storage. It succeeds in taking high quality mechanical energy and converting it into low quality heat. Then to turn the heat back into electricity you then get hit by the second law of thermodynamics. Worse yet your efficiency continually drops as you try to generate electricity. Since max carnot eff. is Thot-Tcold/Thot as you start cool your hot resivor your max generating efficiency goes down.