Apple has won a patent for a Mysterious 'Companion Device' for Apple Vision Pro that Oddly resembles a possible AirTag Spin-Off
Yesterday the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office officially granted Apple a patent that relates to a mysterious companion device designed for Apple Vision Pro though can interact with a MacBook or other Apple device. At first I thought the patent was trying to describe a new kind of smart ring. However, as one dives deeper into the patent, it's a completely alien concept with nothing else to compare it to in the industry. And yet, in many ways it seems to be describing a sort of AirTags spin-off device.
The size of a companion device could vary, according to Apple. It could fit in the palm of the user's hand with a physical body with a maximum dimension of less than two inches, less than one inch, or less than half of an inch. The physical body can have a rounded shape (e.g., a spheroid shape or an ellipsoid shape). The physical body 400 can have a size and a shape that mimics the size and/or shape of a coin (e.g., a quarter, a nickel, a dime, etc.).
Apple notes that implementations of the subject technology provide a small, portable physical object for use in an extended reality system. The system may include a device that allows a user/wearer to interact with virtual representations of content such as stored data and/or applications overlaid on the user's physical environment.
The object has a unique identifier that is obtainable by the device or another device. The object may be an inactive device without any internal circuitry, a passive device with circuitry that is activated by another device, or an active device having its own processing circuitry and/or a display housed in the body of the object.
The object can be associated with content displayed by the device to provide a user with a physical object that can be moved or manipulated to move, modify, transport, or store the content generated, stored, and/or displayed in an extended reality environment.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 below illustrates an example system architecture including various electronic devices that may implement the subject system. While the architecture could cover a wide range of devices, the focus of the patent is an HMD (Apple Vision Pro) that includes a display system capable of presenting a visualization of an extended reality environment to the user.
In FIG. 1, the electronic device #105 may include one or more cameras such as camera(s) #150 (e.g., visible light cameras, infrared cameras, etc.) Further, the electronic device may include various sensors #152 including, but not limited to, cameras, image sensors, touch sensors, microphones, inertial measurement units (IMU), heart rate sensors, temperature sensors, Lidar sensors, radar sensors, sonar sensors, GPS sensors, Wi-Fi sensors, near-field communications sensors, radio frequency sensors, etc.)
Moreover, the electronic device (HMD) may include hardware elements that can receive user input such as hardware buttons or switches. User input detected by such sensors and/or hardware elements correspond to various input modalities for initiating generating supplemental virtual content within a given extended reality environment. For example, such input modalities may include, but are not limited to, facial tracking, eye tracking (e.g., gaze direction), hand tracking, gesture tracking, biometric readings (e.g., heart rate, pulse, pupil dilation, breath, temperature, electroencephalogram, olfactory), recognizing speech or audio (e.g., particular hotwords), and activating buttons or switches, etc. The electronic device may also detect a presence of a person or object and/or an occurrence of an event in a scene to initiate providing supplemental virtual content within the extended reality environment.
Apple's patent FIG. 2 above illustrates a block diagram of example features of an electronic device (HMD), and a "companion device."
In some implementations, the companion device #160 is an inactive device without any internal circuitry that includes an inactive identifier #210. In this example, the identifier may be identifiable with a light-based sensor such as a camera, an optical sensor, an IR sensor, or another sensor capable identifying the identifier using light that is reflected by or emitted by the identifier at or near the surface of the companion device.
However, in other examples, the companion device #160 may be a passive device with communications circuitry #212 that is activated by another device such as by communications circuitry #208 of the electronic device (HMD #105, or an active device having its own processing circuitry #216, memory #214, a battery #220, and/or a display #218 (e.g., an e-ink display or other display) housed in the body of the companion device.
In implementations in which companion device #160 includes a display, the display may be an electronic ink (e-ink) display so that companion device can operate with little power.
As indicated in patent FIG. 3, each companion device 160 may be a small (e.g., coin sized) physical object that is provided for use with an XR system that includes an XR device such as electronic device #105 that allows a wearer or user 101 to interact with virtual representations of content such as stored data (e.g., photos, videos, audio files, text files) and/or applications.
It should be appreciated that the example described in connection with FIGS. 3-with a stack of photos is merely illustrative and the companion device can be associated with any other content in the XR environment.
Apple's patent FIGS. 7-10 above illustrate various implementations of a companion device.
In the example of patent FIG. 7, companion device 160 is implemented as a passive device having a physical body 400 (e.g., body formed from plastic, rubber, metal, glass, and/or a combination of these and/or other materials) having an identifier #210 on an external surface of the physical body #400.
In this example, the identifier #210 is implemented as a quick response (QR) code on an outer surface of physical body that can be recognized by, for example, a camera of another device such as a camera of an electronic device #105 or a camera of another electronic device. The QR code can be printed, etched, or attached to an outer surface of the physical body 400 (as examples).
Apple's patent FIG. 8 illustrates another example implementation of the companion device in which communications circuitry #212 is disposed within the physical body #400. For example, the physical body may form a housing for the companion device having an internal cavity in which the communications circuitry is disposed. In this example, the communications circuitry may be passive communications circuitry such as an NFC tag or an RFID tag that transmits an identifier of the companion device using inductive power from another device, or can be active (e.g., locally powered) communications circuitry that can be activated to transmit the identifier. This implementation sure sounds like it's describing an AirTag.
Apple's patent FIG. 9 illustrates another example of a companion device in an implementation in which the companion device is an active device having additional circuitry, such as processing circuitry #216 and/or memory #214 provided within the physical body along with communications circuitry. In this example, the memory may be used to store an identifier of the companion device, an identifier of content stored at another device or server and that is associated with the companion device, such as cryptographic information for access to content stored at another device or server and that is associated with the companion device and/or to store content at the companion device. The cryptographic information may be, for example, a key and/or information from which a key may be derived and/or obtained, and/or the cryptographic information may be authorization information, such as corresponding to a software license, that authorizes a proximate device to access to one or more applications, features, and/or functions that are provided by the software license.
As shown in FIG. 10, the companion device can also be implemented with a display #218 that can be operated (e.g., by processing circuitry #216 within the physical body and/or by processing circuitry of another device such as electronic device 105 (HMD) to display an indicator #1000 of content that is associated with that companion device (e.g., and stored at that companion device 160, at electronic device 105, and/or at a remote server such as server 120).
In the example of FIG. 10, the display displays the text “My Photos” to indicate that digital photos of the user have been associated with the companion device. In other example, the display may display a thumbnail of one or more photos, or may display other indicators of other content that has been associated with the companion device.
In the example of FIG. 14 below, electronic device #1400 has obtained, using the companion device #160, the stack of photos #308 and the content for displaying the application window #304 as they were previously displayed by the electronic device and displayed the same content on display #1402. As shown in FIG. 14, the electronic device F#1400 may also display content #1406 that has been generated and/or obtained by electronic device independently of the companion device.
For more details, review Apple's granted patent 11733959.