Apple investigating FaceTime hardware for the enterprise market

Jul 29, 2014 - 10:47 AM - by sparkyscott21

Could Apple be working on a higher-resolution version of FaceTime for use in enterprise?

A new patent published Tuesday suggests that it’s at least something the company is looking at, as it describes a multi-view video conferencing camera system that uses scalable video encoding. The patented device, which was first applied for back in June 2012, could compete with Microsoft’s 360 degrees Roundtable conferencing technology, as shown below.

Given Apple’s recent deal with IBM to make hardware and software for businesses, and its successful focus on enterprise under Tim Cook, this could certainly be a valuable area for Apple to explore — particularly since it could conceivably work with a range of Apple devices, including Macs, iPads and iPhones.

Microsoft’s RoundTable video conferencing technology.

The patent describes a device featuring multiple cameras, each of which captures different images from around a table and relays the images — likely using Google Hangouts-style technology, which could intelligently determine which of of the participants was speaking at one time and focus on them.

Apple’s patent notes that the biggest problem for video conferencing at the moment is the amount of bandwidth it requires, which tends to make the images and audio of a low quality – particularly when there are multiple people involved in a conference call. Apple’s technology would claim to change that, by providing higher quality video for the active speaker, and lower quality for the other non-active participants.

As a result, it could solve the video conferencing problem in a neat way that would consume bandwidth in an efficient and effective manner.

A diagram of Apple’s invention can be seen below:

Of course, just because Apple has patented this technology doesn’t mean that it will eventually ship as an actual product. But as Apple looks to take over the enterprise market, something along these lines could certainly be useful to businesses.



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Apple patents smart navigation routing with crowd-sourced stop light pattern recognit

Jul 29, 2014 - 10:38 AM - by sparkyscott21

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday issued Apple a patent for a smart travel route creation system that relies on real-time crowd-sourced stop sign and stop light-based traffic analysis to find the fastest path to a destination.

According to Apple's U.S. Patent No. 8,793,062 for "Routing based on detected stops," the system collects and analyzes traffic data from mobile devices like iPhones to determine the location and operating pattern of stop signs and stop lights. The information, which is more accurate than conventional traffic monitoring methods, can then be used to create faster routes and even for departure time suggestions.

In some embodiments, the invention relies on an iPhone's GPS module to determine when a user is likely in a moving vehicle. Correlating the GPS positioning data with information from the onboard accelerometer and system clock, the device is able to determine the location and time spent at stop signs and stop lights. The data package is sent to an offsite server in real-time or near real-time for pattern analysis.

For example, multiple iPhones send traffic information up to the server, which correlates the stop sign/stop light data based on location and time to find congested areas. Users' devices may also save collected traffic data for upload at a later time, while the server keeps track of a location's history.

To determine whether a vehicle is stopped at a stop sign or stop light, the system analyzes movement as a function of time. For example, a series of short stops followed by short movements and ending with a considerably long-distance movement of would describe the "stop-and-go" pattern experienced at a stop sign.

Alternatively, the location and pattern of a stop light may be determined by lumping together data from multiple vehicles that stop in close proximity to a known intersection for a long duration of time, then move through the intersection all at once. This embodiment also allows for analysis and tracking of stop light patterns, which can help in creating an effective navigation route.

After aggregation and processing,

... [Read More]
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Apple Stores unify employee shirts as major customer service enhancements planned

Jul 28, 2014 - 12:11 PM - by sparkyscott21

Apple is taking a small-step to unifying the attire of its U.S.-based Apple Store employees this upcoming week: the black shirts worn by Apple Store Business Team members for several years will be going into retirement, and all Apple Store employees will begin wearing the same, classic blue t-shirts as normally seen on the store sales floors. Is this a move from the handbook of Angela Ahrendts’ fashion background? Probably not. Sources say that the move happened in Europe a few months ago and the change-up is simply to unify the Apple Store teams as one. The business team will continue to exist in its current form (for now), so this is mostly just a visual change.

In other news, multiple sources also say that Apple is planning some significant operational changes within its stores to improve customer experience…

The first change that customers will experience in the near-future is an enhancement to the Genius Bar that will give customers more one-on-one time with a Genius. Right now, Apple Store appointments are supposed to be 10 minutes each. So, if you have a problem with your Mac, you get 10 minutes with an employee. If you also have an iPhone problem, you’ll need to create a separate 10 minute appointment. In the future, this policy will go away and customers will be able to book appointments with time limits based upon how many problems they’re bringing to the store at that particular time. There’s no ETA on a widespread rollout for this, but select stores have begun training for this and a small-scale rollout could be expected in the coming weeks or months.

Apple is also planning another shift, but exact details on what the change is are yet to become available. Sources say that Apple will be training its retail employees on a major new initiative between August 10th and August 28th. Genius Bar employees will be going through individual three hour training sessions, and sales staff members will each receive five hours of training over that roughly two-and-a-half weeks. One source thinks that the new initiative revolves around in-store iPhone activations, but that is uncertain. We’ll likely hear more about this one in the coming weeks, so stay tuned. (Update: Apple Stores to soon open up iPhone sales via AT&T Next, T-Mobile JUMP, & Verizon Edge)

These Apple Store changes come in the months following Angela Ahrendts taking over the Apple Retail division, and ahead of major new products such as larger iPhones, skinnier Macs, and wearable fitness/health bands. Ahrendts has already overseen some significant new store openings, and many more are planned in China, Europe, and the United States for later in 2014 and into 2015.



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Amazon apparently set to launch Square-competitor in August as it develops biometric

Jul 28, 2014 - 12:07 PM - by sparkyscott21

Amazon could be preparing to launch its own mobile credit card reading hardware in the coming weeks, according to internal Staples documents hinting at such a launch that we’ve obtained. According to the documents, Staples stores will prepare next month to stock a new product called the “Amazon Card Reader” alongside existing card readers from Square, PayPal, and Staples’ own in-house brand. The small hardware, which will likely connect to smartphones to process payments, will cost $9.99, according to the Staples internal sales systems…

Interestingly enough, Amazon just launched a new Wallet app for smartphones last week, so the upcoming hardware will likely connect to that software.

An exact launch date for the product is unconfirmed, but Staples has asked its stores to wait until Tuesday, August 12th to put up new signage related to the Amazon Card Reader, so it’s possible that the release is scheduled for that week. Separately, sources say that Amazon’s Lab126 hardware division is developing other mobile payment-related products that focus on biometric fingerprint scanners, so it seems that Amazon will be pushing into the mobile payments world in a comprehensive way. We’ve previously reported that Apple is working with retailers on its own mass-market mobile payments solution based on Touch ID.

Besides the Staples documents, we don’t have additional evidence that Amazon is gearing up to launch its card reader in August, but Staples has certainly been led to believe that the launch is happening. The above planogram for Staples shows that the Amazon Reader would be placed on the shelf beside the Staples and PayPal solutions. We’ve reached out to Amazon for comment, and we’ll update if we hear back. Reports from Re/code and the WSJ over the past year indicated that Amazon is considering moving into the Square and PayPal-dominated mobile card reading space. This month, Amazon also launched its first smartphone, the Fire Phone, to not-so-hot reviews.



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European Commission OKs Apple's $3B purchase of Beats

Jul 28, 2014 - 11:48 AM - by sparkyscott21

The European Commission issued a press release to say that the Apple-Beats deal cleared under the EU Merger Regulation legislation. The goal of the EU's merger policies is to examine such deals and "prevent harmful effects on competition."

The commission said on Monday that although both Beats and Apple sell headphones in Europe, their combined market share is low and the two companies are not close competitors. The EU noted that headphones from Apple and Beats "differ markedly in functionality and design."

It was also said that major headphone competitors, such as Bose, Sennheiser and Sony, would remain in the marketplace after the Apple-Beats deal closes.

But Apple's $3-billion buyout of Beats isn't just about headphones, as the iPhone maker has also acquired the on-demand streaming music service Beats Music. That service has yet to launch in Europe, which the commission oversees. Apple does have iTunes and iTunes Radio, but neither are directly similar to Beats Music.

"The Commission concluded that Apple faces several competitors in the (European Economic Area) such as Spotify and Deezer, making it implausible that the acquisition of a smaller streaming service that is not active in the EEA would lead to anticompetitive effects," it said. "The Commission also concluded that the transaction would not give Apple the ability and incentive to shut out competing streaming services from access to iOS, Apple's operating system for mobile devices."

The Apple-Beats deal is still pending U.S. regulatory approval, but is not expected to receive much resistance. As part of the agreement, Apple has said it will keep the Beats Music app available for other platforms, including Android and Windows Phone, which would be Apple's first such apps for competing phones.

Apple announced in May that it will buy Beats Electronics, which makes premium headphones, as well as the Beats Audio on-demand music streaming service for a combined $3 billion. As part of the deal, company co-founders Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre will become employees of Apple.

Apple expects the deal to close in its fiscal fourth quarter, which concludes in September, pending regulatory approval.



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Apple expected to buy personalized talk radio app Swell for $30 million

Jul 28, 2014 - 11:45 AM - by sparkyscott21

Apple may bolster its streaming media services with the addition of technology and talent from Swell, a personalized news radio application currently available for iPhone, which it is said to have bought for $30 million.

Apple's alleged purchase of Swell was revealed by Re/code, which said the Swell app is expected to be shut down this week after the deal closes. Key to the acquisition is reportedly the simplified user interface that lends itself well to in-car listening.

Swell is a free download on the iOS App Store and is well reviewed, with 436 users giving it an average score of 4 and a half stars out of 5.

The deal could affect Apple's iTunes Radio service, which is a Pandora competitor that recently gained talk radio stations. The technology could also be implemented in Apple's own iOS Podcasts app, which is poorly reviewed by users on the App Store.

Pitching itself as "news radio rebooted," Swell claims to offer "a smart and effortless way to listen on your smartphone." Partners providing content to the app include National Public Radio, ABC News, American Public Media, and Ted.

The Swell app analyzes what users listen to and uses that data to create a personalized podcast stream. The simplified menus allow users to simply hit play and begin hearing content that may be of interest.

News of the alleged deal comes only a few days after Apple confirmed it purchased BookLamp, a sort of "Pandora for Books." That deal closed in April, and was said to be worth $10 million to $15 million.

During Apple's quarterly conference call for the third fiscal quarter of 2014, CEO Tim Cook revealed the company has completed 29 acquisitions over the past nine months, including the purchase of Beats for $3 billion.



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