Apple Files 45 iPad UI Design Patents in Europe
Apple Creates Customizable Access to the App Store for Enterprise

Apple Simplifies the Click Wheel, On-Screen Controls & Gets Goofy

1 - Cover - Apple Simplifies the click wheel, on screen controls & gets goofy - jan 13, 2011 
On January, 13, 2011, the US Patent & Trademark Office published several interesting patent applications from Apple. In this report we cover three that primarily relate to Apple's portables. Firstly, Apple is seeking ways to simply the iPod's old click wheel so that it could be much thinner with less moving parts. Secondly, Apple wants to change touch screen controls to be invisible when not in use and lastly, Apple wants to ham it up in FaceTime with a likely new fun app that could alter your voice so that it could sound like a scary alien, monster or ranting Tea Partier.   


Fun for FaceTime


Every once in a while, Apple spices things up and offers up a new fun application, like Photo Booth. Well, Apple is at it again. I'm not sure if Apple will time this to OS X Lion's debut this summer, but whenever it arrives it should be fun. Photo Booth is about having fun with photos using Apple's in-device iSight camera and Apple's latest invention suggests that they'll have a fun audio app that could help you create alien, funny or scary voices for FaceTime or better yet, voice tracks for iMovie. A Pro component could also emerge for Final Cut Pro and also be a great tool for gaming developers.


Patent Background


Audio synthesis techniques have been used in entertainment industries and computing industries for many applications. For example, special effects may be added to audio recordings to enhance the sound tracks in motion pictures, television programs, video games, etc. Artists often desire to create exotic and interesting sounds and voices to use with non-human characters in motion pictures, such as aliens, monsters, robots, animals, etc.


Conventionally, studios hire people whose native language is an exotic language, such as Tibetan, as voice artists to record lines in a motion picture. Then the voice recordings may be further processed to produce a voice for the non-human characters. However, in a motion picture that includes many non-human characters, it is expensive to hire so many voice artists.


Apple's Angle


In one embodiment, a first audio recording of a human speech in a natural language is received. Speech analysis synthesis algorithm are then applied to the first audio recording to synthesize a second audio recording from the first one such that the second audio recording sounds humanistic and consistent, but unintelligible.


In some embodiments, intelligent analysis synthesis is applied, rather than pure analysis synthesis. Furthermore, the intonation of the human speech in the first audio recording is preserved through the speech analysis synthesis in order to retain the semantic as well as communicative aspects of human language. The second audio recording may be used in various artistic creations, such as in a movie sound track, a video game, etc.


Another aspect of this description relates to voice synthesis and processing. A first audio recording received may be divided into multiple abstract sound units, such as phoneme segments, syllables, or polysyllabic units, etc. Then each of the abstract sound units may be reversed to generate a second audio recording. To further improve the quality of the second audio recording, the discontinuities at the junctions of consecutive abstract sound units are smoothed. The second audio recording may be stored and/or played.


2 - voice synthesis & processing patent application - Apple Inc, Jan 2011 

Apple's patent FIG. 1 is a flow chart of an example of a method to generate an audio recording that sounds humanistic, consistent, yet unintelligible. FIG. 2 is a flow chart of an example of a method to synthesize voice and FIG. 3 is a block diagram showing an example of a humanistic and unintelligible, yet consistent, voice synthesizer.


Creating Alien and Monster Dialects or Goofing it up in FaceTime


In operation 103, speech analysis synthesis algorithm is applied to the audio recording received to generate a second audio recording. In some embodiments, intelligent speech analysis synthesis is applied, rather than pure analysis synthesis. The speech analysis synthesis may be performed at the sound level to render the result unintelligible yet representing an unevolved language, while retaining the humanistic characteristics of the audio recording. In some embodiments, the intonation of the audio recording is preserved through the speech analysis synthesis at operation 105.


Upon completion of the speech analysis synthesis, the second audio recording is played in operation 107. The second audio recording may sound similar to the audio recording received in terms of intonation and other humanistic characteristics. However, unlike the audio recording received in the natural language, the second audio recording is unintelligible yet consistent. It may be difficult to decipher what is being said by simply listening to the second audio recording.


The second audio recording may be useful in many applications. For example, the second audio recording may be used as the voice of non-human characters (e.g., aliens, monsters, animals, etc.) in motion pictures, video games, etc., by synchronizing the second audio recording with a display of the non-human characters. The humanistic characteristics in the second audio recording make it sound like a real speech, while the unintelligibility of the second audio recording is suitable for mimicking non-human language.


Alternatively, the above approach may be used in combination with other voice or speech encrypting techniques to encrypt the voice recording received in order to strengthen the encryption. In some embodiments, the above voice synthesis technique may be used with an instant messaging application, such as iChat (or FaceTime). In one example, the above technique may be used with text chat that is synthesized with alien voice effect. Specifically, text-to-speech synthesis may be applied to the text entered via text chat, following which the above technique may be applied to the speech synthesized to generate an unintelligible, yet consistent spoken content related to the text entered.


In another example, the above technique may be used with audio chat, where part of a single speaker's speech is analyzed and rendered into an unevolved spoken dialog to produce the effect of a conversation between two speakers. For instance, the speech may be analyzed and divided into abstract sound units using automatic speech recognition. Subsequently, the above approach is applied to generate an unintelligible, yet consistent rendition of the speaker's voice, which retains the vocal characteristics and intonation of the speaker, but renders it unintelligible.


Apple credits Devang Naik as the sole inventor of patent application 20110010179, originally filed in Q3 2009. 


Patent # 2: Method for Adjusting a Playback Control with a Finger Gesture


Apple's patent states that existing methods for adjusting playback controls are cumbersome and inefficient. For example, navigating and manipulating a large number of playback controls, menus, or options is tedious and creates a significant cognitive burden on a user, particularly for handheld electronic devices. In addition, existing methods take longer than necessary, thereby wasting energy. This latter consideration is particularly important in battery-operated devices.


Accordingly, there is a need for electronic devices with faster, more efficient methods and interfaces for adjusting playback parameters on electronic devices. Such methods and interfaces may complement or replace existing playback control methods.


Humorously, Apple states that "For purposes of clarity, very few graphics are displayed on the touch screen." However, by doing so, it's harder to understand what the illustrated gesture is supposedly accomplishing on screen.


With that said, this patent in many ways could boil down to this. The visual indicators on your media player, like a fixed volume control adjustment UI element in your Music, won't be displayed after the control adjustment gesture has been made. In some embodiments, the visual indicators are displayed for a short period following the end of the control adjustment gesture. In some embodiments, "termination of the display of the visual indicator is accomplished by animating the visual indicator fading out to invisibility."

One example is adjusting volume, though interestingly the patent points to adjusting "bass," "treble," and "balance," which on my current iPod touch isn't an option. So these controls may be on the way.


What Apple is proposing is in line with their move to "full screen apps." It's about getting the fixed visual media controls of the UI to get out of your face as soon as you're done with your adjustments.


According to Apple, these new fading controls will most apps available today, such as, a presentation application, a word processing application, a website creation application, a disk authoring application, a spreadsheet application, a gaming application, a telephone application, a video conferencing application, an e-mail application, an instant messaging application, a workout support application, a photo management application, a digital camera application, a digital video camera application, a web browsing application, a digital music player application, a digital video player application, a drawing app etc..


Apple credits Jorge Fino, Benjamin Rottler and Policarpo Wood as the inventors of patent application 20110010626, originally filed in Q3 2009.


Patent # 3: Touch Sensing Device Having Conductive Nodes


While Apple's patent application states that it applies to touch pads as well as a click wheel or even a new touch wheel, the illustrations make it clear that emphasis is on the latter applications. This might mean that Apple is considering a new thinner iPod Classic or will be implementing new touch wheel applications for Apple's other touch products such as the iPod touch, iPhone and iPad. The focus appears to be on simplifying the click wheel's mechanics


Apple states that "although capacitive sensing devices could work well in portable electronic devices, improvements are still desired, such as thinner and power savings devices."

The patent states that by locating the conductive nodes associated with a structure away from, but proximate to, the structure having the touchable surface, the touch sensing device could advantageously be made thinner because it could eliminate extra space and/or components needed for configurations in which the conductive nodes reside on the touchable surface structure. This could also advantageously result in power savings and improved performance for a reduced number of components.


In some embodiments, rather than having separate center button and outer portion, the touchable cover could be a single structure, having a deformable region in the center of the cover to act as the center button and a rigid region surrounding the center button to act as the outer portion. In some embodiments, the entire touchable cover could be a single deformable structure, where the cover could deform to contact a force sensor, rather than tilting and/or translating.


Apple credits Steven Hotelling and Stephen Zadesky as the inventors of patent application 20110005845, originally filed in Q3 2009.


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