Three new interesting Apple patent applications were published today at the US Patent & Trademark Office that cover differing research projects that Apple is exploring regarding radio services. Today, only the iPod nano offers smart radio services. The new patents clearly present us with fresh thinking on this subject and it's apparent that Radio Data Systems in the future will also be able to smart tag television channels too. Perhaps more interesting is that Apple is working on ways that will allow an iOS device user in the future to interact with a radio or TV station advertisement that is promoting a game or offering a prize to their listeners. Independent of these first two patents is a great third patent which covers the future ability of pushing the iOS interface to a modern in-vehicle stereo system's user interface. That's likely a feature that we'd all like to see sooner rather than later.
In some radio broadcasting protocols, data can be transmitted simultaneously (simulcast) with broadcast content. For example, Radio Data System ("RDS") is a simulcast protocol that allows data to be transmitted simultaneously with content in FM (Frequency Modulation) broadcast. RDS operates by adding data to a baseband signal that is used to modulate a radio frequency carrier. In some implementations of RDS broadcasting, the baseband signal has a number of components. Normal modulated audio signal that includes a left plus right (L+R) component is transmitted from 0 to 15 kHz (relative to the baseband). A stereo difference signal (L-R) component is transmitted on a 38 kHz subcarrier. RDS information (e.g., data) is transmitted on a 57 kHz subcarrier. Data are modulated and transferred at 1187.5 bits per second. RDS data can include free-form text that, after demodulation, can be displayed on a display device.
Apple has published two patents that generally relate to processing simulcast data.
The first Apple patent covers a computer system which receives information snippets from a mobile device like the iPhone. The information snippets are extracted from a simulcast of a data stream of a radio broadcast received on the iPhone. The system identifies content metadata from the information snippets. The content metadata describes one or more features of the radio broadcast. The system selects a radio station from a radio station repository based on attributes of the radio station. One of the selection criteria is that the attributes of the radio station match at least a portion of the content metadata. The system presents a reference to the radio station to the mobile device as a recommendation.
The second Apple patent relates to a mobile device like the iPhone which could identify a communication channel to a content provider (e.g., a radio station making the radio broadcast) by comparing components of the metadata (e.g., a radio station call sign) with reference data (e.g., a stored radio station dictionary). The iPhone presents a user interface for connecting to the content provider through the communication channel. Upon a request, the iPhone opens the communication channel and connects to the content provider.
In a third patent relating to radio, Apple describes how an iPhone or iPod touch could provide an accessory like an in-vehicle stereo with an iPhone-like UI to control the stereo.
Apple's patents throw out a wide demographic net. There's something of interest for teens and for the rest of us who would like to see in-car stereos better reflect our device's iOS for content selection and communications.
Overview of an RDS Simulcast System working with an iPhone
Apple's patent FIG. 1 is an overview of some exemplary implementations of processing simulcast data 106 on an iPhone or other iOS system 120. A simulcast is a simultaneous broadcast of content and metadata. In Apple's use of this system in the current iPod nano, the FM tuner shows the data from the RDS system in the form of the artist, song, or program you're listening to. Apple's radio system also allows you to actually to put a live radio broadcast on Pause – so that you don't miss a thing if you're temporarily busy. On a future iPhone application, it will more than likely put your radio broadcast on "Pause" if you're taking a phone call.
It Also Relates to Mobile TV
Apple makes it a point to clarify the term "radio broadcast" so that it includes "visual content" broadcasts like television. Later in the patent, Apple states that an "RF receiver could also be a TV tuner." That's a very interesting admission if you consider that we're about to take a generational shift with the inevitable arrival of wireless LTE networks in 2011-2012. These systems will be able to usher in the era of TV anywhere. Although this service is beginning to roll out with various carriers today, it will only be able to reach the masses once LTE and/or other 4G standards are firmly established in North America and around the world. Apple's patent shows us that they're preparing for that inevitability and in some ways, they may already be tinkering with it with services like Hulu. But that's a story for another day.
How it Works
Note that the patent illustrations mainly focus on an iPhone. Therefore going forward, our report will use the term iPhone rather than "mobile device" because it matches the patent illustrations. The patent of course will apply to other Apple iOS devices in the future.
As we see in Patent FIG. 1 above, the RDS processor (122) could demodulate the subcarrier to extract information snippets (124) from the RDS broadcast. In RDS broadcast, condition of signals received could vary greatly. For example, when the iPhone (120) is in a moving car, the signal received could be poor due to interferences from various electronic components in the car as well as the location of the car (e.g., in a tunnel).
The RDS processor could have built-in error correction functions. However, the reliability of the built-in error correction mechanism could vary. Therefore, the extracted information snippets could be in pieces, instead of an entirety, of the original broadcast data stream (e.g., "Bruce Springsteen" could appear in two segments as "Bruce Sp" and "ringsteen").
The RDS processor could send the information snippets to a content metadata processor (128) for processing. The content metadata processor could analyze the information-snippets and then extract information from the information snippets. The extracted information could then be stored in a content metadata data structure. Content metadata describes a broadcast and the content of the broadcast.
The content metadata data structure could have multiple components (e.g., data fields) that corresponds to information fields contained in the RDS data. RDS data could contain various information fields such as clock time, program identification code, a program service name, a program type. The content metadata components could each contain a corresponding RDS data field. The content metadata could also contain other components that describe the main content being broadcast – such as the name of the artist playing the song, the title of the song, etc. or in the case of TV, the name of the program). The name, title and so forth could be extracted, for example, by analyzing the free-form information (e.g., radio text) field of the RDS data.
In some implementations, the content metadata processor could identify contact information on the radio station (102) from reference data stored in a radio station database (130). The radio station database contains one or more phone numbers, Short Message Service ("SMS") identifications, email addresses, Uniform Resource Locator ("URL") links, and other contact information which could be organized based on the call sign (e.g., a unique identification of a radio station) or program identification code of each radio station. The radio station database could reside on a remote server (e.g., a server at a mobile service provider) to which the mobile device could be connected through a communications network. Alternatively, the radio station database could also reside on an iOS device (e.g., after being downloaded from or synchronized by the remote server).
Communicating and/or Interacting with a Radio Station
After contact information of the radio station is identified, a user interface could be displayed on the iPhone's touch-sensitive user interface. On an example iPhone UI (132) in patent FIG.1 above, a call sign (e.g., "KIOE"), or alternatively a radio station name (e.g., "K103") and a radio frequency (e.g., "FM 103.5") of the radio station are displayed. Also displayed is information about the main content being played on the iPhone (e.g., a name of a performer "Bruce Springsteen," a title of the song being played "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," etc.), and user interface (134 and 136) for opening communication channels to the radio station. An iPhone user could tap or otherwise touch the user interface to call the radio station. The user could also tap the user interface to open up a messaging interface so that the user could send a text message to the radio station. Other communication channels could include emails to the radio station or an interactive Web page of the radio station.
The iPhone could display the user interface elements (134 and 136) while playing the main content. A user could quickly access a communication channel and call, send text message to, or send email to the radio station for purposes of entering a contest (e.g., "the first 25 caller to the station gets a prize"), voting on a song or a performer, or reporting a traffic situation (e.g., to a traffic reporting radio station). See the related flowchart below.
Apple's Advertising Angle
Apple's patent FIG. 4B is a flowchart illustrating an exemplary process for presenting the iPhone UI with information of how to access an advertiser. In a step 452, the iPhone receives a simulcast of a data stream of a radio broadcast. The data stream could include information associated with one or more advertisers. In some implementations, the information associated with advertisers could be included in the Radio Text field of RDS data. The contact information could be about the broadcasting radio station or one of their advertisers.
You know when you read about advertising in an Apple patent – it's more than likely that it'll eventually tie-in to Apple's iAd services in some capacity in the future (see Apple's updated iAd page).
The Detail Icon
The user could access more details to the communication channels by, for example, tapping or otherwise touching a detailed information icon 138 or 140. Tapping or otherwise touching a detailed information icon could cause the iPhone to display, for example, the actual phone number, SMS ID, or email address of the radio station, and/or options to add the phone number, SMS ID, or email address to a contact list or address book.
Apple's patent FIGS. 2A to 2D shown below illustrate exemplary iPhone user interfaces in various exemplary implementations of processing simulcast data. Patent FIG. 2A illustrates an exemplary user interface (210) where information that is relevant to broadcast content is displayed on a mobile device like the iPhone (120).
Apple's patent FIG. 2B illustrates an exemplary user interface 220 where a listening history is displayed. Apple's patent FIG. 2C illustrates an exemplary user interface 230 where purchasing recommendations are displayed on the mobile device. Patent FIG. 2D illustrates an exemplary user interface 230 where radio station recommendations are displayed on an iPhone.
You know, if you happen to love a new artist and can't get enough of their music, being able to have your iPhone seek out and notify you of what stations are currently playing that artist's material is really a fantastic little bonus. I sure would have loved to have that convenience when I was in school and half of my social life revolved around all-things music.
Patents 20100291861 and 20100292816 are credited to Apple's Freddy Anzures and team mates Henry Mason and Lucas Newman. The patents were originally filed in Q2 2009. Assignee names don't have to appear on patent applications until they've been grantted.
Another Radio Related Patent
In a patent published last week, we were able to take a peek at some of the work Apple is doing behind the scenes in respect to tying the iPhone to your in-vehicle stereo system for setting content presets. Well today, we get to see yet another patent on this front that is a little more ambitious. In this patent, we read about Apple working on a way to "push" the iPhone UI to an in-vehicle stereo system as we see below.
Apple's patent FIG. 9A illustrates a remote GUI image associated with the native GUI of the iPhone. The remote GUI image (900) is displayed on a display screen (902) of an accessory (904) that has associated control buttons 906a-e (e.g., up, down, left, right, select). The remote GUI image includes icons are very much those of the iPhone. You'll notice that the iPod icon to activate your tunes is shown above as patent point 910. It's being highlighted with the directional-cursor 908 to indicate that it will be activated if you press the select button (SEL) noted above as patent point 906e.
Apple's patent states that "existing remote GUIs are defined and controlled by the remote control device, and consequently, they may bear little resemblance to a GUI supplied by the portable media device itself. Certain functions available on the portable media device (such as browsing or searching a database, adjusting playback settings, etc.) may be unavailable or difficult to find. Thus, a user may not be able to perform desired functions. Further, GUIs provided for the same portable media device by different remote control devices might be quite different, and the user who connects a portable media device to different accessories with remote control may find the inconsistencies frustrating. It would, therefore, be desirable to provide a more consistent remote user interface experience." And that's what the entire patent covers: ways to push the iOS interface to your in-vehicle system.
Apple credits William Bull, Anthony Fadell, Jesse Dorogusker, Emily Schubert and Shyam Toprani as the inventors of patent 20100293462 entitled "Pushing a User Interface to a Remote Device," originally filed in Q1 2010.
Other Noteworthy Patent Applications Published Today
Just when we thought that Apple's famous Click Wheel had bit the dust and had gone to the big invention dustbin in the sky, a new patent surfaces that shows us that the "Crazy Ones in Cupertino" are still tinkering with the technology. Are they just being nostalgic or will the Click Wheel resurrect in some future gizmo? Who knows, but it's clear that they're working on the Click Wheel's responsiveness under patent 20100289759.
According to Apple, "the touch sensitive surface could become too sensitive, allowing unintended actions or effects to be detected as an input. If the threshold level is too high, the touch sensitive surface could become too sensitve, allowing intended input actions to go undetected."
Apple's patent discloses improved input detection methods associated with sensor elements to provide more accurate touch responses.
Apple Continues to Explore Alternative Materials
In September of this year, Apple won a patent for Improved Composite Materials. That report covered all of the finer details that relate to a secondary patent on the subject that was published today under 20100289390. In the first patent, Apple delved into the material science while this current patent shows us that it may have been one of the materials that Apple once considered for the iPad. The date of the original filing of this patent would confirm this.
However, in the end, Apple wisely chose to go with the smart looking aluminum finish that is used in Apple's other sexy hardware such as the iMac, MacBook Pro and cool MacBook Air. I think that it was the right way to go. The material Apple researched may be a part of Apple TV or was at least was considered for that device at one point in time. Then again, we may see it surface in yet a future device. Time will tell.
Notice: Patently Apple presents only a brief summary of patents with associated graphic(s) for journalistic news purposes as each such patent application is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trade Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any patent application should be read in its entirety for further details. For additional information on any patent reviewed here today, simply feed the individual patent number(s) noted in this report into this search engine. About Comments: Patently Apple reserves the right to post, dismiss or edit comments.
Congratulations to the "Crazy Ones in Cupertino" for another historic victory. Also check out TIME magazine's other top 2010 Inventions.
A Blast from the Past: An Interesting Patent Tid Bit
Yesterday MacRumor reported on a new DJ app that's coming to the iPad. In January 2010, before there was an iPad, Patently Apple posted the report titled "Apple: The Tablet Prophecies" where we pointed to Apple's DJ app patent that we thought could be coming to Apple's forthcoming tablet. You have to wonder who inspired who here? Anyways, it looks like fun no matter who launches it. But in this litigious age that we live in, you have to wonder if there's going to be any fallout over this app. Let's hope not.