We’ve seen a number of classic patents published recently, referring to iconic Apple inventions, and this week is no different.
The recently published “Multi-Button Mouse” patent refers to Apple’s first steps away from the single-button mouse that Steve Jobs had insisted on ever since the days of the Lisa computer in the early 1980s.
The patent describes what would eventually become the Apple Mighty Mouse, which shipped with iMacs from 2005, before being replaced in 2009 by the multi-touch Magic Mouse currently used.
Apple’s patent let them create multi-button functionality in a unibody casing.
Unlike most of the multi-button mice available at the time of its release, what made Apple’s Multi-Button Mouse patent special was that it referred to a method by which sensors could be used to create multiple button functionality inside a solid unibody mouse.
This was done by associating different actions with specific portions of the single movable housing component, so that Apple’s UI designers would be able to take advantage of right clicks without Apple having to sacrifice the clean design it already had with its “no-button” Apple Pro Mouse.
Diagram showing how the mouse’s sensors would be used to perform on-screen actions.
While it was a new concept at the time — and one that Steve Jobs was reportedly not initially keen on — it has stuck around in some embodiment ever since, which is why the publishing of its patent makes such fascinating reading.
The “Multi-Button Mouse” patent was first filed Mar 13, 2002, and refreshed in July 13, 2012.
It names Abraham Farag and Brian Q. Huppi as its inventors.
Apple's remaining low-end 13-inch MacBook Pro model, which features a thicker legacy design and continues to sport an internal optical drive, may finally be on the way out this year, if the latest supply chain rumors are to be believed.
The new claims come from the infamous DigiTimes, which once again on Wednesday cited its usual, anonymous Taiwan-based supply chain sources. According to those people, Apple will stop production of the 13-inch non-Retina MacBook Pro in the second half of 2014, replacing the lineup with thinner models featuring high-resolution Retina displays.
"The sources pointed out that Apple has been reducing its MacBook Pro prices, narrowing the price gap between the MacBook Pro and the one equipped with Retina," the report said. "Apple stopped producing the 15-inch MacBook Pro in 2013 and will end production of its 13-inch model in 2014."
While DigiTimes does have a notorious track record for being the source of questionable Apple-related rumors, the writing has been on the wall for the 13-inch legacy MacBook Pro for some time. Apple has continued to offer the models along side its newer Retina models, which feature a thinner design, only solid-state storage, and lack optical disc drives.
While Apple may finally discontinue its previous-generation portables, the company may also expand its lineup with an entirely new high-resolution notebook this year. Well-connected insider Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities believes Apple is planning to introduce a new 12-inch MacBook model this year.
According to Kuo, the entirely new MacBook will feature an "ultra-slim clamshell form factor" that he views as a marriage between the portability of the 11-inch MacBook Air and the superior productivity of the 13-inch model. The display is also said to be on par with Apple's high-resolution MacBook Pro Retina display.
Kuo believes the new MacBook will be powered by an Intel processor, not a custom ARM chip as has been rumored. He has predicted that the incoming model, which would expand the MacBook lineup, will "redefine laptop computing once again following the milestone created by the MacBook Air."
Meet the iPhone of the (possible) future. Patently Apple notices that Apple has won a patent for a radical new iPhone design that imagines a wraparound bezel-free display that also eliminates the traditional physical home button that has been a staple of the iPhone ever since its launch in 2007. The casing for the new iPhone design is also a major departure from the traditional iPhone as it looks much more like a fourth-generation iPod nano than any other smartphone Apple has ever released.
In its patent filing, Apple envisions that the new iPhone’s curved display will be made from flexible material that can present “an illusion of depth perception” capable of “mimicking a 3D experience.” Apple also says that users would be able to control the volume on the phone “by holding a finger over the volume indicator” and “expanding the volume control over the entire left side of the device,” thus eliminating any need for a volume button. Patently Apple adds that “Apple’s patent also notes that the advanced iPhone design may contain several cameras and use facial recognition.”
While we’re unlikely to see this iPhone design used in the iPhone 6 or really any other iPhone over the next couple years, it does seem like something Apple might release in the future once flexible display technology matures. This patent filing first cropped up a year ago so it’s definitely something that Apple has had on its mind for a long time now.
Belgian Apple Store concept image
A Belgian judge is reportedly considering ordering local ISPs to block access to all Apple websites in the country in response to a long-running dispute over the company’s promotion of AppleCare warranties, according to local newspapers cited by Tech.eu.
A case brought by the consumer protection group FPS Economy argued that Apple misleads consumers by claiming a standard warranty of one year, and selling an optional AppleCare extension, when EU law means that manufacturers are legally obliged to offer a minimum warranty of two years as standard …
The judge is said to be hesitating over this rather extreme proposal after it was pointed out the problems that would be caused for Apple customers in Belgium if they were unable to access Apple servers for services like iCloud and iTunes.
Apple previously hit similar troubles in Italy, resulting in AppleCare being withdrawn and total fines of almost $1.5M being levied. The case was settled when Apple changed its warranty pages on its websites across EU countries with a new table showing the different forms of warranty coverage available.
EU law provides protection against faults which were present at the time of sale. However, any fault occurring within two years (or more, in some countries) is presumed to have been present when sold unless the retailer can prove otherwise.
Consumer groups in ten further EU countries launched cases requiring Apple to do more to advise consumers of their legal rights before selling them AppleCare. The Belgian case is one of these, with FPS Economy arguing that the change to the website was an inadequate response.
Apple also increased its Australian warranties from one year to two years after facing similar pressures there.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday assigned Apple a patent covering passive audio call screening via an off-site voicemail service, a feature that can theoretically be applied to cellphone platforms like the iPhone.
Likely an assignment from the Rockstar consortium purchase of a Nortel patent cache, Apple's U.S. Patent No. 8,666,034 for "Audio call screening for hosted voicemail systems" could potentially bring a staple landline technology to cellphones.
In 2011 Rockstar, a consortium of tech companies including Apple, EMC, Ericsson, Microsoft, Research in Motion and Sony, successfully bid $4.5 billion for a collection of more than 6,000 Nortel patents. It was later learned that Apple footed the lion's share of the bill, equating to some $2.6 billion.
While the Rockstar consortium has leveraged key patents in litigation against Google and Samsung, other properties have slowly been making their way to Apple. Such is the case of the '034 patent.
Those who owned personal answering machines either at home or at the office may remember screening calls by letting the machine pick up, then listening in on the message. If the call was urgent or worth taking, the recipient could simply pick up the phone and answer, automatically shutting off the recording.
As Apple's new patent deals with hosted voicemail services, which are ostensibly off-site and in some ways similar to those provided by cellular operators.
As described in the document, incoming calls intended for a user's telephone terminal can be routed to a hosted voicemail system if a user does not answer. As a caller is leaving the message, a conference call connection is established between the incoming call, voicemail system and user, thus allowing a user to listen in on the message in real time. ... [Read More]
Alternatively, the incoming call may immediately be sent to voicemail, but the same connection between caller, voicemail and user is established. In all embodiments, the system revolves around a switch that controls incoming calls, bounces them off to the voicemail service and manages passive screening.
When a call is received at the switch, it may be sent to a user's phone or directly to voicemail depending on predefined preferences. If passive screening is enabled, the switch will hand off the call to the voicemail service, then establish a connection with the user's phone.
On the receiving end, a user's phone may only open a speaker channel for monitoring purposes, leaving the microphone disabled or muted.
During today's annual stockholders meeting, Apple CEO Tim Cook revealed (via Bloomberg) that 40 billion iMessages and 15 to 20 million FaceTime calls are made daily. That number suggests iMessage has grown exponentially over the course of the last year as usage numbers were at two billion messages per day in January of 2013.
As of mid–2013, Apple had 320 million iCloud accounts with 900 billion iMessages sent, a number that would be significantly higher today, taking into account 40 billion iMessages a day.
In comparison, popular messaging service WhatsApp, which was just purchased by Facebook, processes 50 billion messages per day. BlackBerry Messenger users on Android, iPhone, and BlackBerry phones send and receive upwards of 10 billion messages per day.
iMessage and FaceTime have become increasingly important messaging services for Apple over the course of the last year, and the company recently enhanced FaceTime with FaceTime Audio for both iOS devices and Macs, putting the video service on par with other apps like Skype.
During the meeting, Cook also announced impressive Apple TV sales numbers topping $1 billion and said the company had not lost its "innovative DNA."
Update 12:46 PM PST: According to The Wall Street Journal reporter Daisuke Wakabayashi, Apple CEO Tim Cook told shareholders that the company processes "several billion" iMessages per day, with the 40 billion number referring to notifications.
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