In this final chapter of the Tablet Prophecies, we're going to take a look at possible Future Twists that could have explosive consequences for Apple in many ways. Some twists have stemmed from a single patent alone, while others have come together by connecting the dots between various patents in a very careful and deliberate manner. For instance, we know that Apple is seriously thinking of a business form twist for a tablet considering that they were granted an ink engine patent to support that direction. We know that Apple is likewise considering a notebook tablet twist - and in this report, we'll illustrate a very unique twist involving new sound sensors. But there seems to be a bigger picture forming here that is the twist of twists. Perhaps it's just me, but one of these twists could put Apple into revolution mode once again - perhaps in a way that no one ever saw coming. Hold on, because the last chapter of the Tablet Prophecies - is going to be a lot of fun.
Twist # 1: A Futuristic MacBook Tablet with Advanced Sound Sensory Commands
We kick start the last chapter of this miniseries with a look at new sound sensor based user commands that appear to be on tap for a future hybrid MacBook-Tablet. In the Patent figures noted above, we clearly see a tablet in patent FIG. 5A which magically turns into a notebook in FIG. 5B. To me they're one and the same: meaning a tablet with a keyboard accessory. We'll revisit this point later on in this chapter as the main focus here in twist number one involves advanced sound sensors.
Here's the scenario: In the future, you'll be working on your notebook that is sitting on your office desk - and you'll quickly tap your desk in a certain manner that will instruct OS X to open iTunes, email, iChat, Pages or any other program that you've programmed to match a certain desk-originating sound. Tap or scratch you desk another way and you could silence your iPhone because you're too busy to take the call at the moment.
Apple's patent provides a simple scenario of a presenter hooking up their notebook to a projector and being able to go from one slide to the next with a simple tap on the table or to the next page or the next chart and so forth.
I found this a little difficult to get my head around what Apple was trying to convey in their patent until I came across a top notch presentation by Chris Harrison - a third year Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon University. The same University that Avie Tevanian attended. Chris had contacted me before Christmas on another matter and that's how I came across one of his great "Masters Projects" presentations on "Scratch Input." Specifically, Chris makes the benefits of this technology come to life on his MacBook at the 3:18 mark of the video below.
My hat goes off to Chris Harrison for his excellent presentation and research. Excellent stuff Chris - and thanks for allowing me to use your video in my report. After seeing this video I think you could agree that the next wave of sound sensors will offer us yet another technological twist we didn't see coming to both our future computers and Smart Home features.
Twist # 2: A Unique Tablet Dock
In January 2008, Patently Apple presented a patent report titled "…Apple Patent Introduces iMac-Like Docking Station." One of the noted unique features of this rather short and non specific patent was that it would involve a telephonic handset. It was odd enough a detail to include and highlight two years ago.
To confirm this point, Apple's patent 20080002350 Claim 13 states the following: "A docking station as recited in claim 1, wherein the housing holds one or more of the following: a camera, a speaker, a microphone, a storage device, a memory card reader, a telephonic handset, a battery charger, and a remote control signal receiver."
That's totally in sync with another patent revealed in October 2009. That report made the following point: "In addition to being an iPod Shuffle, the media player will include a recording function as well, so that a user could record voice notes or record parts of a conversation either on an iPhone or a landline, states the patent. Similarly, voicemail messages received on the user's telephone could be uploaded into the headset for later off-line playback."
The kind of dock that is shown above could of course eventually include a touch based display. Perhaps the one rumored this week. The concept was first captured in Apple's July 2008 patent. Then again, it could be a visual trick that Apple is playing on us here. Perhap this is a miniture version of an iMac-like device. One that may very well fit the bill in twist # 3 below.
But it gets cooler. If you connect those dots here to a simulated iPhone patent, then the scenario takes on a richer value. While the original patent is primarily focued on providing tools for iPhone developers, you have to get real here folks to not think that Apple's software and marketing teams couldn't spin that in a heartbeat to replicate, yes, a simulated touch based iPhone on this mini iMac-like docking station. Match that up with the newly revised iPod Shuffle ear piece redesigned to work with the iPhone and or a landline and you have an in-home communications unit that is absolutely a winner.
Say Hello to the NC (Network Computer) Revolution
Apple's tablet dock has an extrordinary flip side to it that could suddenly put Apple into being a major NC provider and leader before anyone even knows what hit them.
The vast majority of computer users today aren't high-end gamers or engineers requiring every ounce of power that they could find. No, the mass market simply wants a surfing machine for social computing, for iChat, iTunes, QuickTime Movie trailers and basic iLife or iWork type of apps.
Apple's patents, as noted in this series, point to these types of apps working on a future tablet. So in theory, if we have a tablet that docks to an iMac like display for a desktop experience and have a tablet that could add a keyboard accessory to mimic that of a notebook, then you have to wonder if we're not looking at the beginning of a NC revolution that's about to unfold.
Think about it for a second. The tablet will offer an upgraded iPhone architecture that runs on hardware …. Without Intel inside: Shhhh. And while we're at it, why not stick a fork in Chrome OS as this almighty netbook wonder to-be. Ha! Apple's next wave of products will cut Chrome off at the knees without mercy. What's not to understand here folks?
Twist # 3: Apple's Home Invasion
The news broke exactly a week ago that Apple is seriously working on a Smart-Home Energy Management Dashboard System. Today, it's a little too early to say whether Apple will work this into a separate tablet; be something that works with an iPhone or perhaps another in-home device of sorts. Perhaps one kind of tablet will be geared for your home office, den or even your kitchen. The latter may sound strange enough, but it's something that's been on Apple's mind for some time now. Check out the trademark filing from China noted below.
Apple actually filed for two similar trademarks at the same time: "Kitchen" and "The Kitchen." Apple filed for these trademarks in 2004 which are valid until 2014.
For the sake of interest, Apple's kitchen trademark covers everything needed to fit an in-home communications hub and here is only a smattering of highlights under International Class 041: reproduction of sound, interactive products and online services; distributing course materials; providing digital music (not downloadable) from MP3 Internet web sites; providing digital music (not downloadable) from the Internet; operating chat rooms; publication of electronic books and journals on-line as well as concerts, videos, radio, television news, sports, games and cultural events. It sure sounds like Apple has "The Kitchen" covered quite extensively – even if we aren't sure for what just yet.
In-Home Communications Hub
Once you see that Apple has been ramping up their patents and trademarks for more in-home systems, a new world begins to open up. In the fall of 2009, we read about Verizon dropping their interesting Hub product. Earlier in that year, Verizon was supposedly in talks with Apple. That got me poking around a little more about Verizon's Hub to see if there was any kind of link here. Was Verizon trying to save their vision? Was that the cause for these rumored talks? I don't know But it's one scenario to consider. Below is a video overview of the Hub for those of you who aren't familiar with this pivotal product that may have brought Verizon knocking on Apple's door.
Another company by the name of OpenPeak has a similar idea of an in-home/in-office communications hub and you can't look at it without thinking of what Apple could be doing in this space. Here's a collage of photos to help you visualize this type of product better.
If you think about it, Apple is clearly in the driver's seat here. On one hand Verizon wants to save the vision of their Hub. On the other hand, AT&T would love nothing more than deliver a cool Apple in-home communications system and succeed where Verizon failed. What a marketing coup that would be. But that's the point. Apple holds the power here and they certainly have all the pieces of the puzzle to make this a reality in short order. The only question remaining is: Which of the two Telcos will win Apple's new device?
The last note on this subject goes to pricing. Many think that the price of the coming tablet will be way too high for consumers. That could very well end up being the case without appologies. However, we can't forget one of the most controversial patentd of 2009: The one that promised that Apple could rock the market! Yes, finally we have a context that puts that scenario front and center of the tablet. Perhaps we'll see this unfold next Wednesday. That would be interesting to be sure.
The Spice of Life
In today's final chapter of the Tablet Prophecies we began by introducing you to Apple's second example of a unique notebook-tablet hybrid. A hybrid that would one day utilize new sound based sensory technology. We extended that knowledge by looking at an extremely interesting video from Carnegie Mellon's Chris Harrison who is working on "Scratch Input" technology. Who knows, perhaps this technology could find its way to a future Apple product.
Today's second twist involved an Apple patent that is perhaps one of the most intriguing and mysterious patents I've seen in some time. It holds an explosive piece of a potential puzzle that could lead to a surprising move by Apple into the NC space, right under the industry's nose. This is a twist that has the potential to cause more sparks than the best fireworks you could ever imagine in a "Fourth of July" celebration.
And lastly, we explored an extremely practical tablet application that could emerge in the form of a Verizon Hub-like product that could serve both in-home and for-business markets very well while cross-marketing Apple's iPhone in the making. One thing I know for sure: I'd buy one in a nano second for my home office and kitchen - to replace the useless phones I have today. Yes, how many of you are nodding your heads in the affirmative at this very moment. Yes, I caught you - come on – admit it.
Well, this concludes our miniseries titled: Apple: The Tablet Prophecies. I hope that you've had a chance to learn something while having a little fun while you were at it. At the end of the day, that's the spice of life.
Notice: Patently Apple presents only a brief summary of patents with associated graphic(s) for journalistic news purposes as each such patent application and/or grant is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trade Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any patent application and/or grant should be read in its entirety for further details. For additional information on any patent reviewed here today, simply feed the individual patent number noted above into this search engine.