The US Patent and Trademark Office officially published a series of 31 newly granted patents for Apple Inc. today. In this particular report we focus on a single invention that covers future devices that could incorporate several integrated technologies including smart glass or electrochromic glass, backside display cover touch controls and photovoltaic cells that could add a power boost to many devices such as a MacBook or iPad. According to a new research report published today, notebooks and Ultrabooks with built-in LTE connectivity will be a new product category that will gain a lot of traction over the next few years as LTE expands into China and other markets around the globe.
Apple's Patent Background
Computers such as portable computers are often provided with liquid crystal displays. Portable computers typically have upper and lower housings that are connected by a hinge. The lower housing contains computer keys and a pointing device such as a track pad. The upper housing contains a display. The hinge allows the upper housing to be opened when the computer is in use and to be closed when it is desired to protect the keys and other components of the lower housing.
Typical housing materials for computers include plastic and metal. The display is generally a liquid crystal display (LCD). Components that are associated with the display such as a light reflector layer and backlight may be mounted inside the upper housing. The plastic or metal of the upper housing forms an enclosure that protects the rear surface of the display and the other components from damage. An opening in formed in the front of the upper housing to allow the user of the computer to view images on the display.
Conventional computers such as these are sometimes bulkier and less aesthetically appealing than desired and may lack desirable user interface features. For example, the housing of the computer may be thicker and less attractive than desired and may be devoid of capabilities that would make the computer more appealing to use.
It would therefore be desirable to provide improved computers such as computers with improved housing and display features.
Apple Invents New Display Features
Apple's patent relates to electronic devices such as computers, and more particularly, to displays and display-based features for computers.
First Point: Solar Power via Photovoltaic Cells
The first noteworthy aspect of Apple's granted patent is that the Display structures and the rear plate may be mounted to opposing sides of a shelf portion of the peripheral housing member.
The rear plate may be formed from electrochromic glass. Photovoltaic cells may be located under the rear plate and may produce power when activated by an external light source.
Electrochromic glass is also known in the industry as "Smart Glass." Smart glass, or switchable glass, also called smart windows or switchable windows in its application to windows or skylights, refers to glass or glazing that changes light transmission properties when voltage, light or heat is applied.
Smart glass controls the amount of light (and thereby heat) transmission. When activated, the glass changes from transparent to translucent, blocking some or all wavelengths of light.
Apple's patent FIG. 22 as noted above, is a side view of an illustrative display module having an electrochromic glass structure, a front display structure, a rear display structure, and a shared backlight in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention; FIG. 24 is a cross-sectional side view of an illustrative display module with photovoltaic cell structures that receive light through a rear plate in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention.
Apple has filed for a great number of patents relating to the use of photovoltaic cells for MacBooks, iPhone and iPods. You could review these patents under our "green technology archive" or under a search for solar here.
Second Point: Backside Touch Controls
The second noteworthy aspect of Apple's granted patent is that Touch sensors may be located under the rear plate and may gather touch input. A control unit may be used to process touch commands on the rear plate to perform functions such as unlocking a magnetic latch that holds the upper housing to the lower housing.
Apple clearly notes that while the patent figures illustrated a future MacBook, in fact the invention can extend to tablet computers, cellular telephones and other handheld electronic devices, portable computers, other portable electronic devices, computer monitors, computer monitors with embedded computers, televisions, and other electronic equipment.
Apple has filed for patents that cover backside controls dating back to date back to 2006. We presented images from that patent filing in our 2010 report titled "Apple: The Tablet Prophecies." Another patent on this topic was covered back in 2012 in our report titled "Apple Reveals Future iPad with Backside Controls for Gaming.
In today's patent filing, FIG. 18 noted below is a cross-sectional side view of an illustrative display module having an integrated touch sensor formed under a rear plate structure in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention.
Third Point: Cellular Connectivity
The third noteworthy aspect of Apple's granted patent is the fact is that the filing also emphasizes an antenna in the display and wireless circuitry in devices. Associated antennas may be used in transmitting and receiving radio-frequency antenna signals such as cellular telephone signals, wireless local area network signals, etc.
Apple has already been granted a patent about a cellular MacBook and we've created an extensive archive on the subject.
A future MacBook with cellular connectivity is likely to be a product that is going to get more traction over time, especially as 4G and faster networks dominate the market. This was discussed in a new study by ABI Research today.
The ABI reports states that "Looking ahead, ABI Research expects LTE mobile broadband as a standard feature to become a differentiator for the mobile network operator channel, enhancing its selling opportunity beyond smartphones. As LTE reaches critical mass for network coverage, markets will be able to abandon 3G mode compatibility and carriers will readily shift toward LTE-only modems in data-centric computing applications. By 2015, North America will relinquish the regional lead for ultra-portables as Asia-Pacific pushes forward due to market saturation in the early adopter countries."
Ultra-portables as noted in ABI's report refers to convertible and detachable 2-in-1 configured Notebook PC's as well as Apple's MacBook Air. As Mobile China and others shift to 4G over the next few years, the explosive market for smartphones is likely to spill over to 4G ready notebooks.
Apple credits Adam Garelli, Dinesh Matthew, Thomas Wilson, Keith Hendren, Peteris Augenbergs, Brett Degner, Bradley Hamel, Michael Damlanakis and Patrick Kessler as the inventors of this granted patent 8,638,549 which was originally filed in Q3 2010. To review the details of today's patent, see Apple's invention.
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