Over the past few decades, few companies have been so associated with American technological innovation as Apple Inc. of Cupertino, CA. In recent days, however, this personal electronics corporation has encountered some setbacks to their business. Along with further allegations of safety and workers’ pay violations at Apple’s Chinese supplier plants, the digital financial news website Fiscal Insider reported that Samsung has recently surpassed Apple in profits from mobile device sales in late July.
This week, as IPWatchdog returns to its Companies We Follow series, we check in with Apple Inc. to get an idea of what newly developed systems they hope will help them retain their lead in the electronics industry. Many of the recently published documents from the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, including both patent applications and issued patents, relate to software system improvements that Apple has developed. One patent application for a voice assistant that can analyze contextual data is specifically for mobile device applications. Two other applications are for more general computer systems: one which protects a system of suggesting search result rankings for online shopping based on a person’s social network contacts; another would protect a cleaner user interface for browser windows with multiple open web pages.
Apple is also interested in improving the hardware systems involved in their devices. One patent issued by the USPTO protects a removable hard drive for small form factor desktop computers that helps reduce the overall weight of the entire computer. A final patent application we feature today describes a system of accurately calibrating a mobile device’s magnetometer in response to interference from other electromagnetic fields.
Methods and Apparatus for Providing Content Based on Social Networks
U.S. Patent Application No. 20130185325
Many people engage in online shopping of various sorts, including engaging in transactions for virtual products. These products are not tangible but provide a certain enjoyment for users, such as purchased credits for online game content. Although algorithms can be employed to determine what a shopper might want based on online profiles or interactions, these methods don’t take social relationships into account, which may provide further detail of a user’s interests.
This patent application was filed by Apple to protect a system of analyzing online relationships through social media to prioritize search results when purchasing virtual products, such as game content. According to this application, interactions between users on Facebook and Twitter can provide a profile of a user’s interests based on content they mark or “like,” posts they share or re-tweet and other interactions. The relationship profile is analyzed to determine if a user has similar interests to those in their social networks. If the users are very similar in interests, prior purchases by one user can be used to inform shopping search results for the other user.
Claim 1 of this patent application seeks to give Apple legal protections over:
“A method implemented in a system comprising a user account database comprising a plurality of user accounts, each user account maintaining a list of assets stored on one or more devices associated with that user account, and each user account is associated with one or more social network user IDs, wherein each user account has associated relationship metrics that define a personal association probability value between that user account and each other user account based on access to at least one social network associated with the one or more social network user IDs of that user account, the method comprising: receiving a first user asset search query, the first user having a first user account in the user account database; accessing an asset database to obtain a set of prioritized assets that correspond to the asset search query, wherein the set of prioritized assets is based on the relationship metrics associated with the first user account; and displaying at least a subset of the prioritized set of assets.”
Maintaining Context Information Between User Interactions with a Voice Assistant
U.S. Patent Application No. 20130185081
In recent years, mobile devices have greatly expanded their functionality. In many cases, users now have far more options on their devices than they can navigate easily. Some functions may be unknown to users simply because of the sheer amount of different apps or services available to them. Voice assistants have been designed to help users, especially novice users who cannot easily navigate their app folders. These assistant can respond to user voice inputs to open up local and remote resources available through the device.
This patent application, filed by Apple, is designed to give the company legal protections over a voice assistant system that can respond to contextual details. The system is designed to be more reactive to natural language dialogue in response to mobile device events. For example, if a user is on the phone with another party and wants to send a text message to that party, they can tell the voice assistant, “Send him a text message.” The word him will be interpreted as the party currently on the phone.
Claim 1 of this patent application is seeking to protect:
“A method for operating an automated assistant, comprising: at an electronic device comprising a processor and memory storing instructions for execution by the processor: performing a first task using a first parameter; obtaining a text string from a speech input received from a user; identifying, based at least partially on the text string, a second task different from the first task or a second parameter different from the first parameter; and performing the first task using the second parameter or performing the second task using the first parameter.”
Visual Presentation of Multiple Internet Pages
U.S. Patent Application No. 20130191709
Browsing the Internet is one of the most common activities among computer users, and numerous browsing software services have been created to improve the browsing experience of users. As Internet websites have become much more advanced, users may desire to keep many different pages open at once. For instance, a user might find multiple articles they want to read on a news site and open each for later reading. However, even when browsers support many tabs in one browser window, opening many pages at once can still make it difficult to navigate tabs to find a particular web page.
This patent application, filed by Apple with the USPTO, would protect a new graphic user interface (GUI) design for browser windows. Instead of individual tabs, this GUI creates page groups. A page group is created when a page is accessed directly, such as through a bookmark or by typing the uniform resource locator (URL) into the browser address bar. When a user clicks a link to open a new page, it is opened within that page group.
Claim 1 of this patent application would give Apple legal protections over:
“A method for displaying multiple pages of internet content comprising: determining for each of the multiple pages whether a page was accessed indirectly, if accessed via a hypertext link or a trail of hypertext links, or directly, if accessed in a manner other than via a hypertext link or trail of hypertext links; creating a separate page grouping for each page determined to have been accessed directly; categorizing each indirectly accessed page into a page grouping associated with a directly accessed page through which the indirectly accessed page was requested via the hypertext link or trail of hypertext links; presenting, through a graphical user interface (GUI), the user with a visual representation of the page groupings and the pages contained in a page grouping having a selected status; transitioning the selected status from one page grouping to another page grouping within the GUI in response to user input; and enabling the user to select a page to view from the selected page grouping within the GUI.”
Magnetometer Accuracy and Use
U.S. Patent Application No. 20130181811
Mobile devices sometimes contain magnetometers, which can provide useful directional knowledge to mobile device users. These electronic components can provide accurate information on the directional orientation of a user and the data can be provided to the user through a compass app or some similar navigational tool. Calibration systems can configure magnetometers so that an accurate reading can be obtained, but magnetic fields from other electronics, including vehicle components, can adversely affect the magnetometer and return inaccurate readings when used around other devices.
This patent application would give Apple the right to protect a system of calibrating magnetometers based on historical magnetometer data. When a mobile device is docked in a car, such as for playing audio files through a car’s speakers, typical calibration techniques may take the magnetic field created by electronic vehicle components into account. When a recalibration trigger event occurs, such as docking the device, this system uses data from past magnetometer readings to ensure that the correct direction is displayed. Location information from a global positioning system (GPS) is also used to confirm the location and direction of a device.
As Claim 1 states, Apple is seeking the right to protect:
“A method performed by a processor of a mobile telephone having a magnetometer, the method comprising: determining an accuracy metric based on magnetometer measurements output by the magnetometer during a calibration or recalibration procedure; and presenting an indication of the accuracy metric on the mobile telephone.”
Removable Hard Drive in a Small Form Factor Desk Top Computer
U.S. Patent No. 8493727
Small form factor desktop computers are designed to offer computing functions to users while at the same time reducing the amount of space taken up by the computer. Apple, for example, sells the Mac Mini, which can be easily connected to a display and keyboard for computer use, or operate as a stand-alone server that can be accessed by a computer across a network.
Recently, Apple was issued a patent by the USPTO that protects a removable hard drive component for small form small form factor desktop computers. This will allow Apple to build a Mac Mini that is even lighter in weight than previous models. The removable hard drive is attached to the bottom of the Mac Mini and secured with two support pins aligned with grommets. The mass storage device also includes an additional pin that protects the hard drive from vibrations created by other computer components.
As Claim 1 explains, the USPTO has granted Apple the right to protect:
“A small form factor desktop computer, comprising: a single piece housing comprising: a flat top portion having curved edges that meet a plurality of side walls and a bottom portion at rectilinear edges forming a flat side surface and cooperating to form a cavity suitable for receiving operational components at least one of which is a mass storage device, the plurality of side walls comprising a front wall having a slot suitable for receiving an optical disk, and a back wall comprising an opening arranged to accommodate a plurality if input/output interfaces, the bottom portion comprising a bottom opening arranged to receive the mass storage device comprising a plurality of support pins; and a support structure comprising at least two grommets arranged to removably secure at least two of the plurality of support pins, the support structure attached to the front wall and formed of vibration absorbing material, wherein an interior surface of the top portion includes a plurality of etched ground points suitable for connecting electrical components to a chassis ground.”