Apple Patents Focus on Improving iPhone Functionality

By Steve Brachmann
October 3, 2014

Apple, Inc., headquartered in Cupertino, CA, is an American multinational corporation which has earned itself renown in the last 15 years or so for its consumer electronics and computing products. The corporation is a regular feature of IPWatchdog’s Companies We Follow series, and our most recent survey of Apple technology comes as the company is dealing with a bit of turbulence. A recent update to the iPhone operating system iOS 8 was pulled back after customers complaints about dropped cellular service spiked. The iPhone 6 was also the target of some backlash after customers questioned the tendency of the new device to bend out of shape. Since the iPhone 6 was released on September 19, Apple’s stock has dropped about $23 billion in value.

Regardless of Apple’s current business difficulties, recently published patent applications filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Organization show that the company is still trying to establish itself as a bastion of computing innovation. Below, we’ve explored three patent applications specifically directed at mobile devices, including one technology designed to predict a preferred driving route without any manual input. Improvements to personal digital assistants and graphical user interfaces for software programs are also discussed.

Apple is one of the stronger American companies in terms of intellectual properties held, and recent weeks saw the addition of many more patents in the field of consumer computing technologies. We discuss a group of patents related to improved graphical user interfaces, including one technology to help digital objects respond to touch inputs in a way that suggests physical interaction in the real world. Intelligent systems for telecommunications are another area of development focused on by Apple, including methods of determining chat session capabilities in a contact’s device.

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Apple’s Patent Applications: Mobile Devices, Personal Digital Assistants and Display Interfaces 

Since the early 2000s, Apple has built a very strong position for itself in consumer markets with a great deal of innovation in the field of personal computing devices. Apple still sees itself at the forefront of global technological development in these fields, even if some have raised questions about the corporation’s strength in the post-Steve Jobs era. Apple CEO Tim Cook had plenty of positive comments in the wake of the company’s recent unveiling of the iPhone 6, online payment system Apple Pay and the wearable Apple Watch gadget; he was quoted as saying, “Anyone coming out of [that release event] knows that innovation is alive and well in Cupertino.” Some have noted how the release of the Apple Watch, the corporation’s first new product since Cook took the reins, marks a new direction for Apple innovation, one in which products will be less market-disruptive as well as less expensive on first release.

Mobile device innovations are still a great area of focus for Apple, and we found a trio of patent applications which could improve functionality in a number of areas for the iPhone or other mobile devices. Methods of receiving personalized suggestions through a mobile device for nearby events or attractions are outlined within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140287780, filed under the title Location-Based Categorical Information Services. This would protect a method of receiving a request from a device for categorical data, which would include location information, for a content item on a map that meets a geographical parameter. This technology is designed to help mobile device users find establishments within their vicinity which are aligned with their personal interests without having to consult a travel guide or visit a tourism office.

From U.S. Patent Application No. 20140287780, filed under the title “Location-Based Categorical Information Services.”

From U.S. Patent Application No. 20140283128, entitled “Specifying Applications to Share in a Shared Access Mode.”

Location-based services for routing are discussed within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140278070, which is titled Warning for Frequently Traveled Trips Based on Traffic. The patent application describes a technology for predicting a preferred route in such a way that a user manually inputs less information. The mobile device that would be protected includes a storage for previous locations and a prediction engine for formulating predictions for destinations. It also provides for the display of travel data on the device screen which indicates the amount of traffic congestion along the route. Apple device users who are asked to share their phone should have more protections for their private data thanks to the invention expressed within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140283128, entitled Specifying Applications to Share in a Shared Access Mode. The patent application would protect a program that provides a graphical user interface (GUI) on a mobile device with affordances for access settings for enabling or disabling applications in a secondary access mode. This allows a mobile device user to create a multiple access modes which offer customizable levels of access when sharing a device.

The use of GUIs in electronic computing devices is also addressed by a few others patent applications which we felt were worth sharing with our readers today. More intuitive GUIs for computing devices with touch screen displays are a technology which is the focus of U.S. Patent Applications No. 20140282011, entitled Device, Method, and Graphical User Interface for Organizing and Presenting a Collection of Media Items. This filing would protect an electronic device with program instructions for obtaining a collection of media items and displaying those items in a chronological order according to time indicators. The time indicators include data about the time of day or year when accessing media items to establish patterns for presenting useful content at the appropriate time. We also noticed an innovative improvement to GUIs for home entertainment devices explained within U.S. Patent Application No. 20140280048, filed under the title Navigating Graphical User Interfaces. The patent application would protect a method of receiving character inputs from a keyboard coupled to the media system and using those inputs to search for and select content. The technology was designed to improve the ease of navigating available through a home entertainment device with a remote control, especially when the device provides multiple GUIs for interfacing with personal computers, networked resources or online content stores.

We also found a couple of intriguing innovations related to the use of electronic devices as digital assistants implemented to accomplish a variety of jobs. U.S. Patent Application No. 20140282003, which is titled Context-Sensitive Handling of Interruptions, discusses methods for intuitively detecting information to be presented to a digital assistant user. The patent application would protect a digital assistant operating method for assigning urgency values to notification items and providing an audio prompt to a user if a threshold for the urgency value is met. Digital assistants which can process spoken commands will be more effective when used in foreign countries according to the technology outlined in U.S. Patent Application No. 20140272821, entitled User Training by Intelligent Digital Assistant. The computer-implemented method that would be protected can process speech inputs in a first language, determining the user intent and providing more accurate suggestions for expressing user intent. The technology is able to determine which language to use for determining inferred intent according to context such as geographic region or current presence within a restaurant, retail store or health care facility.

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Issued Patents of Note: More Graphical User Interfaces and Improved Communications Services 

Apple has one of the stronger patent portfolios among American companies that we profile here on the Companies We Follow series. During 2013, the company was issued 1,775 patent grants from the USPTO, 13th-most globally and the 5th-best among American companies filing for patents in that year. As is typically the case whenever we check-in with the recent innovation protected for this company, dozens of patents have been assigned to Apple within the past few weeks. Most of the technologies which we saw are in the field of improving communications and user interfaces operated through electronic devices.

From U.S. Patent No. 8842082, entitled “Device, Method, and Graphical User Interface for Navigating and Annotating an Electronic Document.”

Apple products have long had a reputation for having very uniquely designed, both in terms of hardware devices and software program interfaces. Today, we’re sharing a trio of interesting patents related to the latter of these. Methods of establishing more lifelike interactions with graphical icons on a desktop computing environment are protected for Apple through U.S. Patent No. 8839150, which is titled Graphical Objects That Respond to Touch or Motion Input. The patent protects a method of presenting graphical objects, such as files and folders, on a sphere which is responsive to touch inputs. This technology creates a hierarchy to elements within a touch screen user interface that are arranged and animated as if they were responding to actual physical forces. Improvements to GUIs used on touch screen-enabled devices to interact with electronic documents are discussed within U.S. Patent No. 8842082, entitled Device, Method, and Graphical User Interface for Navigating and Annotating an Electronic Document. The technology was developed to improve upon the cumbersome nature of conventional methods of annotating electronic books, magazines, newspapers and other content, which typically requires the initiation of a reader application. The patent protects an electronic device which can operate in either a navigation-preferred mode or an annotation-preferred mode and instructions for performing different commands relative to hand gestures, depending on which mode is operating. We also noticed the simply titled U.S. Patent No. 8836707, issued under the title Animations, which discloses methods for enabling a wide degree of computing devices to more effectively display animated elements of an application program interface (API) for a software program. The patent protects a machine-implemented method that determines the progress of multiple animations on a display and updating the animations to the display through the use of a single animation timer.

Apple has also secured for itself some patents in the field of telecommunications, especially in the area of technologies which are intuitive to a person or device capabilities. U.S. Patent No. 8843834, which is titled Method and Apparatus for Initiating and Managing Chat Sessions, protects a technology designed to enable more effective chat sessions between people using devices with different communicating capabilities, such as video chat. Apple has protected a machine-implemented method for initiating a chat session in such a way that a user can be presented with various chat services in which both devices can participate based on monitored user activities of the second device owner in the chat session. Another technology is directed at aiding organizations create individualized messages which are of more interest to a person, which we noticed in U.S. Patent No. 8842882, issued under the title Individualizing Generic Communications. The individualizing communication method protected by this patent compiles images of persons to be contacted, determines attribute information based on the images and using that attribute information to create an individualized message. It seems that the invention is mostly related to enabling advertisers to more effectively reach consumers by “communicating clearly and persuasively” to smaller groups of individuals.

Finally, we noticed one last Apple invention related to improved methods of performing operations through touch screen inputs. U.S. Patent No. 8842088, titled Touch Gesture with Visible Point of Interaction on a Touch Screen, addresses issues experienced when a user interacting with a touch screen cannot properly view on the display screen the operation they’re trying to complete. The patent protects a computer-implemented method of determining a touch area corresponding to at least two touches on a touch screen and displaying a point of interaction adjacent to the touch area. This innovation gives a touch screen user a better capacity for viewing their work, especially important for tasks involving precision drawing.

 

Editorial Note: An earlier version of this article misidentified the author. It was updated at 8:45 am ET to reflect that Steve Brachmann is the author.

The Author

Steve Brachmann

Steve Brachmann is a freelance journalist located in Buffalo, New York. He has worked professionally as a freelancer for more than a decade. He writes about technology and innovation. His work has been published by The Buffalo News, The Hamburg Sun, USAToday.com, Chron.com, Motley Fool and OpenLettersMonthly.com. Steve also provides website copy and documents for various business clients and is available for research projects and freelance work.

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