In part one of Apple: The Tablet Prophecies – we began with the question: What is it about tablets that gets the masses all worked up? By the end of that chapter, I think most were able to see why the excitement surrounding Apple's new tablet has been justified. By drilling down into Apple's patents, we were able to demonstrate the depth of engineering that has gone into crafting this unique tablet. Apple is, afterall, reinventing the tablet and not simply regurgitating the same old desktop experience into a tablet form factor like their competitors have done unsuccessfully. Just saying that they have a tablet means little, considering that they introduced the tablet a decade ago. How embarrassing it will be to have Apple, yes - little Apple, actually sell more tablets in a single year than they could pull off in a decade: S-L-A-P. The difference is that Apple actually T-H-I-N-K-S things through. They go down the rabbit hole for us - and grok over the tiniest of details so that they could actually give us a unique experience with each and every device they design. Apple's obsessive design team leader, Jonathan Ive, is relentless – and it shows in every product they ship. The same is true for Apple's software, under the watch of Bertrand Serlet. In part one of this special report, you read about Morphing Controls, next generation Floating Controls, Touch Zone back panels, Virtual Keyboards and more. Today the adventure continues as you'll learn about yet more details regarding Apple's forthcoming tablet that will pump you up for next week's announcements. Get ready: here's part two.
In Chapter two of Apple: The Tablet Prophecies – we'll review five key features that cover hardware and software. The two hottest tickets that we could only hope for in a tablet are revealed today. How about built-in Quad Speakers & 3D Surround Sound or a hot 3D user interface feature that allows you to highlight anything on the tablet's UI that needs expanding. It's like the Apple Dock magnifying experience on steroids for any element you require on the interface. If Apple delivers that one, you're going to love it – especially if you're a big handed man.
A close third is easily Apple's possible PSP killer experience for first person shooter and driving games. If, and that's a big if, they could actually pull this one off - we'll definitely see sparks fly big-time in the gaming market.
So let's kick off part two of Apple: The Tablet Prophecies – with a mysterious hardware feature that Apple appears to have up their sleeve.
Possible Tablet Feature: Four Wireless Antennas
Apple's new tablet could end up with four wireless antennas if this next patent comes to light. Whether they're thinking of providing a superior future TV experience or support a highly-advanced wireless version of iChat is still unknown at this time. Yet I think that it's safe to say that Apple must have something very powerful up their sleeve if they think that the tablet is going to require four antennas.
Apple's patent FIGS. 12A and 12B describe two specific technologies. One - is the orientation shift that could take place on the display from portrait to landscape as it currently occurs on an iPhone or iPod touch. What's new is the second twist where Apple is describing a future tablet utilizing four wireless antennas as outlined in the figures above as 1204, 1205, 1206 and 1207. Basically there are two antennas per orientation. Apple describes it this way:
"In view of the orientation, it may be determined that wireless interfaces 1204 and 1205 are in the best positions to transmit and/or receive wireless signals given the orientation of example 1201 (e.g. receiving and/or transmitting strongest signals), while the wireless interfaces 1206-1207 are in relatively weak positions. As a result, wireless interfaces 1204-1205 may be activated and wireless interfaces 1206-1207 may be optionally de-activated."
While Apple's patent details the mechanics of the quad antennas, it fails to provide us with any context as to what applications they may be earmarking for this unique addition. Unfortunately, that's a software and marketing function that sneaks under the radar of patent applications. Hmm, what do you think this is about?
Possible Tablet Feature: Quad Speakers & 3D Surround Sound
If we're lucky, this part of the patent will come to life sooner rather than later. According to one particular patent, Apple has been experimenting with quad 3D Surround Sound Speakers in relation to an accelerometer for some time now. Depending on the orientation of the tablet, the accelerometer automatically resets the speakers to deliver the best sound quality on the fly. In one word: Wow.
Just so that you get the straight facts on this futuristic feature, this is how Apple describes this technology: "Referring to Figure 14A, a portable device includes multiple speakers [noted above as patent points 1405, 1406, 1407 and 1408] disposed on different locations of the portable device and a document page [center point 1403] is optionally displayed on a display of the portable device. In the orientation 1401 prior to a movement, an audio driver may be configured to generate proper 3D surround sound considering speakers 1405-1406 on the left and speakers 1407-1408 on the right. When the portable device is moved, for example according to the moving direction 1404 for 90 degrees, a second orientation 1402 is detected and determined by an accelerometer and its associated controller and/or firmware as shown in Figure 14B."
The patent goes on to state that "the positions of the speakers 1405-1408 may be reevaluated whether the existing configuration is still the best configuration for the orientation after the movement. In this example, the originally left speakers 1405 and 1406 are at the bottom while originally right speakers 1407 and 1408 are on the top as shown in Figure 14B. Thus, the existing audio conditions have changed and sound effects are not longer in the best state. As a result, the audio driver may be reconfigured to produce an audio quality relatively equivalent to the one prior to the movement of the portable device."
According to the patent, this technology could also apply to other tablet functions - specifically, a video interface, microphone or camera.
Possible Major New Tablet OS Feature: The Visual Expander
Touch screens offer ease and versatility of operation and allow a user to make selections and move a cursor by simply touching the display screen via a finger (or stylus). Yet an Apple states that "While touchscreens generally work well, they are difficult to use when features such as buttons, web page links, or UI controls presented on the touch screen display are too small for finger activation, i.e., the finger is too large relative to the button, link or UI controls. Furthermore, the features typically do not provide the user with any feedback indicating that a finger is located on the feature. This may make it difficult to determine what feature is being selected. As a result, the user may incorrectly select a feature. For example, in web browsing, users have no control over the size of the link or button presented by a website."
Apple's solution is to introduce us to a major new tablet feature called the Visual Expander. Isn't that just an onscreen magnifier, you might ask. No. Apple explains the difference between the two in this way: "The virtual magnifying glass magnifies the GUI in the area of the magnifying glass, i.e. similarly to moving a magnifying glass over a printed piece of paper. The magnifying glass allows the user to traverse through the GUI so that the user can read small text. While virtual magnifying glasses work well, they are limited. For example, they typically do not allow features to be manipulated or selected inside the magnified area. Furthermore, they may not allow text editing therein."
The patent notes that Apple's OS X is designed to magnify the dock including the icons when the cursor is moved over the docks icons. Yet the patent notes the limitation of this feature by stating that "While this works well, the feature has no control over the content presented on the remainder of the screen, i.e., the remaining portions of the screen do not magnify when the cursor is positioned thereover. Furthermore, this particular feature only works on the main system page. It does not work in programs or applications or even web pages."
The Expanded State
Apple's patent FIGS. 9 and 10 illustrated below are diagrams showing GUI 400 in an unexpanded and expanded state. FIG. 9 is a side view and FIG. 10 is a top view. As shown, the expanded portion 402 is enlarged, magnified and raised (e.g., pushed up) relative to the remaining portions 404 of the graphical information. Although the expanded portion appears to be out of plane relative to the remaining portions, it should be noted that the expanded portion is actually in plane with the remaining portions. Visual techniques are used to make it appear as if it is raised even though it is displayed in the same plane.
In the illustrated embodiment, the expanded portion includes a plateau region 406 and a transition region 408. The plateau region is configured to display the target area 410 (noted as the yellow circle) in a larger and magnified state – which roughly translates to a magnification of 3 times that of the target area 410. This will allow most adults, especially those with larger fingers, the ability to use touch areas and controls such as hyperlinks with ease, unlike some controls on the iPhone today.
Yet until we see this feature, it's difficult to say whether or not Apple is referring to their patent pending high end 3D OS interface or not. There's a video presented in Patently Apple's report on this proposed 3D OS that clearly demonstrates how the eye could be fooled into perceiving depth that is limited to the display. This appears to be how Apple is describing their new Visual Expander feature.
Magnifying and Using Hyperlinks
Note: Here's a quick tip to help you understand the following graphic. A portion of the patent figure 12M shown below is actually jetting out of the graphic as opposed to being dragged, as the graphic first appears at a glance.
Apple's patent describes FIG. 12M as follows: "the finger 514 is moved from the title to a link positioned within the window 520. Similar to the buttons and title, the portions of the link in the plateau are fully enlarged and magnified while the portions in the transition region are distorted and further the portions outside the expansion are of normal size and magnification. As shown in FIG. 12N, the user exerts a greater pressure on the touchscreen while the link is in its expanded form. This increased pressure is recognized as a touch event, and the element associated with link is launched or opened (although not shown)."
Magnifying Specific Zones
As shown in FIG. 13C, after the finger 514 dwells for some time over the heading, the heading is expanded. In this illustration, the heading is presented in an enlarged and magnified state while the remaining portions are not. As shown in FIG. 13D, when the finger 514 maintains contact with the touchscreen and is moved over a different GUI object as for example the field of the window, the field is expanded. In this illustration, the field is presented in an enlarged and magnified state while the remaining portions are not (including the heading).
Note: In the magnifying zones example illustrated above, the horizontal bar noted as "window" is actually jetting out in FIG. 13C. The same goes for the field of the window jetting out in FIG. 13D. With a 2D interface, you can't really see this without knowledge of what is actually being conveyed in the patent.
Magnifying Page Elements or Text
As shown in FIG. 12I, as the finger moves away from the buttons, it moves over an inside edge of the window 520 thereby causing the inside edge to be expanded as well as text in FIG. 12J.
Possible Tablet App Upgrade: Advanced Map Navigation
Apple's Tablet based maps of the future will allow a user to zoom in or out of a map location by simply using a tilting motion. No buttons will be required. Secondly, once a location has been set, the user will be able to simply and slowly move the tablet in a direction that the user wishes to explore from an originating location and the user will see an arial view as if it were a magnifying glass roaming across a large surface. This roaming effect will extend to viewing large publications or newspapers on the net as well, according to the patent.
Another example the patent links to maps is as follows: "A user who is carrying an accelerometer, either attached to a portable device or attached to a vehicle, may drive a vehicle to different locations to perform a survey, in order to create a map for those locations. The map may be subsequently created using the movement data collected by the accelerometer during the drive." On this point however, I have to wonder if using Google Maps hasn't supplanted this application. Then again, Apple may introduce a new mapping service of their own in the future.
A Possible First Person Based Video Game Experience: You're in the Driver's Seat
One of Apple's patents place a lot of attention on driving games. Apple's emphasis, as shown below, is definitely on putting the gamer right into the driver's seat with a tightly controlled feel so that the sides of the tablet become the steering wheel. Slightly tilt the tablet forward and you accelerate, tilt it back and you apply the brake. While I've tried a few driving games on my iPod touch, they definitely don't provide me with that classic first person perspective that is being implied in this patent in respect to a larger tablet.
A Possible First Person Shooter Video Game Experience: In another example Apple states, "Similarly, in a shooting game … a vertical movement of the portable device parallel to the display surface of the portable device may be used to detect whether a user is in a standup shooting position or in a hiding position. For example, when the portable device is moved down, a protection barrier may be displayed blocking the opponents to indicate that a user holding the portable device as a shooting weapon is hiding behind the protection barrier. When the portable device is moved up, the protection barrier may be removed exposing the opponents to indicate that the user is in a shooting position without protection."
Imagine getting that in-your-face 'First-Person' experience for driving and shooter games merged with Apple's proposed back panel touch zone controls. Whoa - That could be one PSP crushing move for Apple if it ever comes to be. Yikes!
Possible Tablet Twist: A Virtual or Augmented Reality Application
In another patent, Apple briefly touches on techniques that "may be used in a virtual reality environment. In one embodiment, it allows a user to use the accelerometer equipped portable display device as a portable and controllable window into a virtual reality image database. For example, a user holding the tablet can turn around and see the view looking backwards from a position in a two or three dimensional image or object database as if the user walks into a virtual reality game space."
In respect to Apple's description of technology that will allow a user to walk in a virtual reality game space or object database - what comes to mind? One thing: the great scene from the Movie Disclosure.
If you mate the Apple patent describing a walk in a virtual reality game space or object database with Apple's Head Mounted Display System – you have the makings of something absolutely off-the-charts!
While we're not there yet - that doesn't mean that Apple isn't working on it. In fact, the patent outlined above, says they're doing just that. Where could Apple realistically apply such technology over the next 3-5 years? For starters, a future virtual Apple Store. Once you're in the Virtual Apple Store of the future, you'll be able to swing or pan your Apple tablet left to right and see the very same products that you would as if you were actually in a brick and mortar Apple Store. On the table to your right you'd see MacBooks and when you swing or pan your tablet to the left you'll be able to check out the new iMacs 2015. Yes, very cutting edge.
Once Again: We Say Thanks to "The Crazy Ones"
In today's introduction, I pointed to Apple's passion, if not obsession over detailing a unique consumer experience for whatever they design. If this series has proven anything, then it's proven that Apple's focus on delivering an all new consumer experience relating to a media tablet has been a long and tested journey. A journey of endless research to find that right blend of applications that would deliver that something special that will end up driving us all crazy until we own one.
Yes - Apple's patents have pointed to a vast array of possibilities to meet that demand. The tablet experience could introduce us to Apple's new Visual Expander interface feature or an ever ending universe of multiple UI modes that focus on the task at hand. It could mean delivering a new entertaining DJ app that would translate into a new touch based version of Apple's GarageBand. The tablet could likewise introduce us to back panel touch zones to assist our enjoyment of finally being able to read digital books, newspapers and magazines in splashing color and cool corner-page-flipping motions. It could mean rocking to iTunes on our tablet's stunning 3D Surround Sound speakers or having that first person shooter game sound like we're actually in the action with every bang, crash and thud imaginable. Or it could mean being introduced to a new, toned down, illustration or paint program.
In Apple's Fiscal Q2 2009 Conference call, Ben Reitzes of Barclays Capital asked Tim Cook about whether he had any thoughts about netbooks. Tim Cook's Response: "For us, it’s about doing great products. And when I look at what is being sold in the netbook space today, I see cramped keyboards, terrible software, junky hardware, very small screens, and just not a consumer experience, and not something that we would put the Mac brand on quite frankly." Further into his statement Tim Cook states: "And then of course, if we find a way where we can deliver an innovative product that really makes a contribution, then we will do that and we have some interesting ideas in the space.
Yes Mr. Cook, I think we're all fully aware of some of Apple's interesting ideas by now. And so once again we say, Thanks to "The Crazy Ones."
Will we see everything we discussed in this series roll out next week? Absolutely not. But that's not to say that we won't see a few of these ideas debut on Apple's new tablet - and others in future tablet iterations. But that's the fun of it all. We still want to be surprised!
Apple: The Tablet Prophecies
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.