Apple Explores Smart Keyboard With Siri, Share, and Emoji Keys

Feb 15, 2017 - 1:37 PM - by sparkyscott21

Apple recently filed a patent application containing drawings of a Smart Keyboard with "Share" and "Emoji" keys, and a key that can be used to both search and invoke Siri, suggesting it may be exploring a new version of the iPad Pro accessory to be sold alongside next-generation models.

The drawings show that pressing the "Share" key would bring up a share sheet on the iPad Pro with options to share through apps such as Facebook, Mail, and Messages. There is no description of how the "Emoji" key would function, but pressing it would presumably bring up the on-screen Emoji keyboard on the iPad Pro.

The current Smart Keyboard already has a globe key in the bottom left corner that can bring up the on-screen Emoji keyboard, but this key is not visualized in the patent drawings. There is a non-existent "Fn" key in its place.

The third key, labeled with a magnifying glass, would serve multiple purposes. A single press, for example, could bring up a search field for searching within apps. A double press could bring up shortcuts for Messages, Photos, Calendar, Camera, Notes, Settings, and other apps. Long-pressing the key would invoke Siri.

Since this is not a design patent, Apple's drawings are not entirely accurate, but rather just basic visualizations. The "Share" key is located where the right-side Command and Option keys would normally be, for example, while the "Emoji" key is included in lieu of Caps Lock, which is an essential key.

Nevertheless, we roughed up a quick mockup of what the new Smart Keyboard could look like based on the same layout of the new keys as Apple's drawings.

Apple is rumored to launch a trio of new iPads as early as March, but possibly not until later this year, including an all-new 10-inch range iPad Pro with an edge-to-edge display. The other models are expected to be updated 9.7-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro models with faster A10X processors.

A so-called "Smart Keyboard 2" could accompany the new iPads and perhaps the so-called "Apple Pencil 2" rumored to launch this year.

The current Smart Keyboard was released in November 2015 and costs $149 and $169 for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro and 12.9-inch iPad Pro respectively. International versions such as British English, Dutch, Korean, Spanish, Italian, German, Swedish, French, and Arabic were released in August 2016.


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Apple Submits Third Model of Mystery 'Wireless Device' With Bluetooth and NFC to FCC

Feb 14, 2017 - 1:47 PM - by sparkyscott21

Apple recently submitted an unnamed "Wireless Device" to the FCC, a U.S. government agency that regulates communications, for the third time. The latest filing lists a model number of A1845, slotting in between A1844 in the first filing and A1846 in the second, but there are no new clues as to what the device could be.

Apple again requested permanent confidentiality for most of the documents in the filing, including photos, user manuals, and schematics, so the entry largely remains a mystery. Test reports completed by UL Verification Services reveal that, just like in the first two filings, the device has Bluetooth LE and NFC.

The model numbers A1844, A1845, and A1846 do not correspond to any existing Apple products. A regulatory label in the first filing showed the device has at least two slightly curved edges and two Torx screws, but Apple cropped the image in the second and third filings, likely to give fewer hints about its design.

When the original "Wireless Device" was uncovered, there was some speculation that it could perhaps be a new Apple TV, but the prominent and lengthy regulatory text etched directly on the device, including a wiring guide, would be uncharacteristic of Apple to include on the exterior of a consumer-facing product.

The more likely explanation is that the wireless device is for internal use. It is possible that the device in question is something that is used in retail Apple stores, such as a product display unit or iBeacon-based equipment used to communicate with customer iOS devices, which Apple has filed with the FCC in the past.

The FCC filing could remain a mystery until the device is released, and we may not ever know if it does end up being a product for internal use. But it's fun to speculate, with predictions ranging from Apple's rumored Siri-enabled speaker to a smart thermostat given the RS-485 control signals listed.


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Apple's Stock Reaches its Highest Price Ever

Feb 14, 2017 - 1:43 PM - by sparkyscott21

Apple is having a good Valentine's Day, as its shares traded above $134.54 today, eclipsing a previous all-time intraday high set in April 2015.

Apple's market value has now surpassed $700 billion, making it the world's most valuable company by a sizeable margin. Google parent company Alphabet is second largest with a market cap of around $575 billion, followed by Microsoft at around $500 billion and Berkshire Hathaway at around $412 billion.

The milestone comes just one day after Apple's stock recorded its highest closing price ever of $133.29 on Monday. Following Apple's first annual revenue decline since 2001, its stock been steadily rising over the past four months, buoyed by record-breaking earnings results at the end of January.

When adjusted for a 7-for-1 split in June 2014, Apple's stock is trading at roughly $942, approaching the $1,000 milestone that was considered wishful thinking when some analysts predicted it years ago. Apple is also slowly but surely on track to become the world's first trillion dollar company.

Apple analysts Brian White of Drexel Hamilton and Steven Milunovich of UBS, and former analyst turned venture capitalist Gene Munster, are among a larger group of observers who believe Apple's stock remains undervalued and is likely to rise. AAPL is up over 50% compared to its 52-week low of $89.47 in May 2016.


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Apple Exploring Fingerprint Sensing MicroLED Displays Sans Touch ID

Feb 14, 2017 - 1:41 PM - by sparkyscott21

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office today granted Apple a patent that describes a display capable of reading a user's fingerprint without a dedicated Touch ID sensor (via AppleInsider). The patent is interesting given current rumors swirling around the iPhone 8, which is expected to do away with the home button and integrate Touch ID directly into the display, but perhaps more noteworthy is the patent IP's re-assignment from LuxVue, a little-known company acquired by Apple in 2014 that developed low-power microLED-based displays.

Titled "Interactive display panel with IR diodes", the patent details a touch display that uses specifically microLED-sensing technology, rather than the traditional active matrix hardware utilized by most consumer smartphones and tablets.

The technology replaces larger capacitive sensors with smaller infrared light emitters and sensors, which sit alongside the RGB LED display substrate or on a microchip mounted to the substrate. These "interactive pixel" formations can then be calibrated to perform any number of functions, including ambient light sensing, proximity detection, and notably complex touch detection, which works by bouncing infrared light off a user's finger and back to the sensing diodes.

In the latter operation, specific rows or a whole portion of the display scan for a user's finger, which generates a proximate positioning bitmap to inform the system of the target's location and immediate surround. Bitmaps can include data like the intensity of incoming light, enabling a deeper analysis of the object and its surface curvature dark and bright spots corresponding to the ridges and grooves of a fingerprint, for example.

The patent describes a couple of embodiments for the technology, including a microLED display with a higher density of interactive pixels in certain areas of the screen, such as where a virtual home button may be located. Alternatively, said pixels may ramify throughout the display in sufficient number as to make fingerprint identification on any portion of the screen a possibility.

Apple has explored other systems for enhancing display fingerprint recognition in the past. As with all patents though, the standard qualification applies: Apple may deem the LuxVue invention surplus to its upcoming product requirements. However, on its own, the system goes to show that reliable fingerprint identification does not necessarily rest on Touch ID alone. With rumors suggesting Apple may incorporate iris scanning into the iPhone 8, the security implications of dropping Touch ID's focused capacitive drive ring altogether may not be so great after all.


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Apple Joins Nearly 100 U.S. Firms to File Legal Brief Opposing Trump's Immigration Ba

Feb 06, 2017 - 2:16 PM - by sparkyscott21

Apple has joined 96 other companies in filing a legal brief opposing President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration, Bloomberg reported on Monday.

Other technology companies named in the amicus brief include Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Netflix, Snap, Uber, Twitter, and Intel, with consumer goods companies like Levi Strauss and Chobani also named in the brief. Amazon wasn't listed, with the company's CEO Jeff Bezos already backing the original lawsuit brought by Washington state's attorney general that brought a temporary halt to the immigration ban on Friday.

The brief was filed late Sunday in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, highlighting the importance of immigrants to the economy and for society as a whole, and arguing the unlawfulness of the ban. According to the report, the filing of the brief was originally planned later this week, but the companies involved accelerated efforts over the weekend following other legal challenges to the order.

"The Order represents a significant departure from the principles of fairness and predictability that have governed the immigration system of the United States for more than fifty years," the brief stated. "Immigrants or their children founded more than 200 of the companies on the Fortune 500 list."

"Immigrants make many of the Nation's greatest discoveries, and create some of the country's most innovative and iconic companies. America has long recognized the importance of protecting ourselves against those who would do us harm. But it has done so while maintaining our fundamental commitment to welcoming immigrants through increased background checks and other controls on people seeking to enter our country."

The brief comes in support of a lawsuit from Minnesota and Washington states, brought against Trump's controversial executive order temporarily barring citizens of the predominantly Muslim-countries Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, from entering the U.S.

"Of course, the federal government can and should implement targeted, appropriate adjustments to the nation's immigration system to enhance the Nation's security," the filing continued. "But a broad, open-ended ban - together with an indication that the ban could be expanded to other countries without notice - does not fit the goal of making the country more secure. Instead, it will undermine American interests."

The filing went on to criticize the Trump administration's handling of the travel ban, claiming that it sows confusion and threatens companies' ability to attract skilled workers in the long run.

Last week, Tim Cook said that Apple was considering its legal options as a way to pressure the Trump administration into rescinding the executive order. Reports later emerged that Apple was involved in collaborative efforts with other tech companies to draft a letter opposing Trump's order, but those discussions rapidly developed into the amicus filing, after Washington state's lawsuit on Friday. The amicus is currently being heard in the ninth
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Apple's international iTunes business moves to Ireland on Feb. 5

Jan 27, 2017 - 1:24 PM - by sparkyscott21

Apple has assigned a definitive date to the planned relocation of its international iTunes assets, saying the iTunes Store, Apple Music, the App Store and iBooks Store businesses will make the transition to Cork, Ireland, in early February.

The official relocation timeline was disclosed in a note sent out to developers on Thursday. Apple Distribution International will conduct the transfer of its international iTunes business, which serves more than 100 countries, from Luxembourg to Cork on Feb. 5, Apple says.

After managing Apple's overseas operations since 2004, the Luxembourg branch will cease to be on Feb. 4.

The company is making the transition as seamless as possible for content owners. For example, developer contracts were automatically transferred to Apple Distribution International in September. In addition, customers looking to buy apps made by developers based in Ireland can do so free of Irish VAT thanks to Apple's special exporter status.

Apple informed developers of the forthcoming move in September, with reports at the time estimating the transfer to be worth some $9 billion in assets.

The transfer comes amid rising tensions between Apple, Ireland and the European Union. Last August, the European Commission concluded a years-long investigation into Apple's Irish business, slamming the company with a $14.5 billion bill for back taxes.

According to investigators, the sweetheart tax deals Apple from which Apple benefits are in breach of regional regulations and amount to illegal state aid.

Ireland is one stop in the infamous but legal "Double Irish with a Dutch Sandwich" strategy multinational corporations like Apple leverage to save billions of dollars in taxes each year. At its most basic level, the "Double Irish" provision allows companies with operations in Ireland to route profits to another Irish subsidiary. This subsidiary claims tax residency in a tax-free nation. Companies like Apple and Google assign patents to these secondary subsidiaries to funnel profit on royalties to tax havens such as the Caribbean.

Apple adds a wrinkle to the process by first piping international profits through yet another subsidiary in the Netherlands before routing the funds through the Irish subsidiary. Ireland and the Netherlands hold treaties that allow money to cross borders tax free.

Beyond bouncing income around the world, Apple enjoys an incredibly low tax rate in Ireland. In 2014, for example, the company paid 0.005 percent on its European profits, much lower than Ireland's standard corporate tax rate.

For its part, Apple contends its tax practices are above board. To that end, both Apple and Ireland are appealing the EU ruling.


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