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Apple invents bone conducting EarPods for better iPhone noise cancellation


Thursday, September 18, 2014, 03:47 am PT (06:47 am ET)

As part of an ongoing effort to improve the quality of iPhone voice calls, Apple is investigating a unique take on bone conduction technology that uses sensor-laden EarPods and multiple microphones to cancel out unwanted noise.

Apple’s technology is outlined in a patent filing titled “System and method of mixing accelerometer and microphone signals to improve voice quality in a mobile device,” which was published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Wednesday.

The invention proposes a set of EarPods, or similar earphone device, be fitted with accelerometers to detect vocal chord vibrations that propagate through a user’s skull when they speak. Using output data generated by the sensor and a microphone array disposed within at least one earbud, a spectral mixer creates a mixed signal for parsing out non-vocal noise.

Source: USPTO

To detect voiced and unvoiced speech, the accelerometer may be tuned to sample low frequency vibrations indicative of such signals. By measuring output signals, the invention effectively creates an accelerometer-based voice activity detector (VAD) capable of distinguishing voiced speech from ambient vibrations.

At the other end of the equation are microphone arrays that monitor acoustic signals for a user’s voice. Apple mentions inclusion of both front-facing and rear-facing microphones in a single earbud, as well as optional embodiments with sets of mics installed along the device cable that come together to create a beam forming array.

As with the accelerometer-based VAD, the acoustic version recognizes voiced and unvoiced speech, but at a naturally higher energy level. Apple compensates by conditioning and amplifying the accelerometer VAD signal to levels sufficiently equal to microphone output. This is key to the process as the two signals will be analyzed against one another during the noise canceling operation.

To mitigate errors in voice pickup, the accelerometer and microphone output signals are compared and contrasted, meaning final VAD output is an “and” function of the two VAD systems. Applying threshold analysis to the power signals results in a speech-to-noise power signal that can then be fed to a noise suppression module. To reach an accurate assessment of ambient noise, a spectral mixer generates a final output signal by removing the respective noise power signals from both microphone and accelerometer power signals.

Finally, a switch feeds the final VAD output through for transmission, while a noise suppressor removes unwanted environmental noise from the signal.

Alternative embodiments include closed type earphones, mono-signal earbuds and variations on the spectral mixer. Other technical considerations like amplification levels are also detailed.

It is unknown if Apple is working to make bone conduction headsets a reality, but the company has already taken steps to deploy noise cancellation technology in its devices, as evidenced by dual-microphone setups for its iPhone and MacBook product lineups.

Apple’s bone conduction noise canceling earbud patent application was first filed for in March 2013 and credits Sorin V. Dusan and Aram Lindahl as its inventors.

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Apple pulling HealthKit-enabled apps from the App Store


Wednesday, September 17, 2014, 10:02 am PT (01:02 pm ET)

With the public release of iOS 8 looming, Apple has begun removing apps that take advantage of the new HealthKit API from the App Store, a move that is said to have been prompted by ongoing problems with new health data tracking system.

Developer Brian Mueller, maker of fitness motivation app Carrot Fit, said on Twitter that he received a call from an Apple representative following his app’s removal from the store Thursday morning. That representative indicated that HealthKit was the cause, and Mueller could resubmit a version of Carrot Fit sans the new framework.

“Sounds like HealthKit won’t be working at all this week,” Mueller subsequently wrote. “And there’s no ETA for when a bug fix will go live.”

HealthKit, announced at June’s Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, is a tentpole feature of iOS 8. Its delay could explain the absence of any major HealthKit-related new at last week’s iPhone 6 introduction — Minnesota-based healthcare provider Mayo Clinic had been rumored to appear at the event in support of HealthKit, but did not take the stage.

HealthKit would not be the first iOS 8 feature to have its release pushed back. SMS continuity, which would allow users to answer SMS messages received on their iPhone from their iPad, was recently pushed to October and its eventual release is likely to coincide with the general availability of OS X Yosemite.

Update: Apple has confirmed the HealthKit “bug” to Financial Times reporter Tim Bradshaw, who tweeted the email correspondence below. The company plans to have a fix in by the end of September.

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How to use iOS 8 Continuity between your iPhone & iPad for calls, texts, apps & more


Wednesday, September 17, 2014, 10:31 am PT (01:31 pm ET)

Once updated to iOS 8, recent iPhones and iPads will play nicely with each other, allowing users to do new functions like answering a phone call or sending an SMS message via their iPhone without having to put down their iPad, or start an email on one device before finishing it on the other.

Apple has dubbed this seamless integration “Continuity,” and some of it works immediately once all of a user’s devices are updated to iOS 8. For example, if a user has the same Apple ID and associated phone number enabled on their iPad, calls will show up on the tablet once the iPhone begins ringing.

Answering a call on an iPad automatically places the conversation in speakerphone, allowing the iPad’s microphone and speakers to handle the call. Continuity requires an iPhone 5 or later, fourth-generation iPad or newer, iPad mini, or fifth-generation iPod touch.

iOS 8 also allows users to automatically enable Personal Hotspot from a nearby iPhone, in a feature Apple calls “Instant Hotspot.” A Continuity-capable iPhone will appear under the Wi-Fi section of the Settings app on iPad, and selecting that device will switch Personal Hotspot on, allowing a user to access mobile data from their cellular provider when possible.

The iPad also gains the ability with iOS 8 to send traditional SMS text messages via a connected iPhone. Previously, users could only said iMessages to Apple devices.

All of this same functionality will be coming to newer Bluetooth Low Energy capable Macs later this year with the launch of OS X Yosemite, which will also be a free update.

Additional Continuity features in iOS 8 are available by enabling the “Handoff” feature. Users can do this by opening the Settings application, choosing General, and then selecting “Handoff Suggested Apps.”

“Handoff lets you start something on one device and instantly pick it up on other devices using your iCloud account,” Apple’s description reads. “The app you need appears in the lock screen, app switcher, and the dock on a Mac.”

For example, if a user is reading a website on their iPhone running iOS 8, they can quickly switch to their iPad by swiping up from the small Safari icon that is displayed in the lower right corner. Doing so will immediately open the same website on the iPad.

In addition to Safari, this functionality works immediately with Mail, Pages, Numbers, Keynote, Maps, Messages, Reminders, Calendar, and Contacts. Developers will be able to add Handoff into their own third-party apps as well.

The “Suggested Apps” function also utilizes a user’s location to recommend applications. For example, if a user is at a Best Buy retail store, iOS 8 will display an App Store icon in the lower left corner of their iPhone lock screen. Swiping up will take the user to the App Store listing for the official Best Buy app.

If the Best Buy application is already installed, the icon for it will be displayed in the lower left corner, giving the user quick access to the app while they are in the store. This will help expand iBeacon functionality, which requires third-party applications to be installed to access unique functions.

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Apple updates iMovie for iOS with new filters, speed controls, Photo app integration, more


Wednesday, September 17, 2014, 05:07 pm PT (08:07 pm ET)

Continuing its ongoing first-party iOS app updates, Apple on Wednesday released a new version of iMovie that introduces a slew of editing features alongside support for iOS 8.

While iOS 8 compatibility is the first item on Apple’s release notes for iMovie version 2.1, the updated consumer-level video editing app brings a number of new features like filters and support for iCloud Drive.

With version 2.1, video clips can be edited in the new iOS 8 Photos app by using the iMovie extension, making available an extra set of tools for tweaking and image enhancement. In addition, ten Apple-designed filters now come prepackaged for application in a single clip or across an entire movie.

Post-processing speed controls now allow users to slow down, speed up or freeze sections of a clip for dramatic results. While slow-motion and freeze frames are supported in older iOS devices, Apple notes users must have at least an iPhone 5s, iPad Air or iPad mini with Retina display to apply 2x speed-up effects.

Video storage and sharing options have been extended to include compatibility iCloud Drive and sending to other apps on an iOS device.

Finally, iMovie version 2.1 includes title creation using bi-directional text and added support for Arabic, Australian English, Hebrew, and Mexican Spanish.

iMovie is available to new device owners as a free 643MB download from the iOS App Store, while those with older iPhone, iPad and iPod touch models can purchase the video editor for $4.99.

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Apple releases OS X 10.9.5 Mavericks with reliability enhancements, includes Safari 7.0.6


Wednesday, September 17, 2014, 05:21 pm PT (08:21 pm ET)

Apple on Wednesday released the latest OS X 10.9 Mavericks maintenance update, which includes Safari version 7.0.6, with fixes for VPN reliability and file access from SMB servers.

The latest OS X Mavericks update comes a month and a half after Apple first seeded betas of the update to developers in July.

As previously reported, the maintenance update focuses on fixes for the reliability of virtual private network connections that use USB Smart Cards as IDs. Also improved is reliability of accessing files located on an SMB server.

As for Safari 7.0.6, the Web browser was released as a standalone update in August and includes a patch for a WebKit vulnerability that allows for termination of arbitrary code after a user visits a malicious website.

Mac users can download OS X 10.9.5 Mavericks via Software Update or the Mac App Store.

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Apple updates iWork for iOS suite with support for iOS 8, stability fixes


Wednesday, September 17, 2014, 06:14 pm PT (09:14 pm ET)

Following the release of iOS 8 on Wednesday, Apple rolled out updates for its iWork productivity app suite, bringing the titles up to speed with the company’s latest mobile operating system.

So far, Apple has released Numbers and Keynote and Pages, all of which have reached version 2.4.2, with added support for iOS 8.

Looking at the release notes, it appears that the productivity suite is getting only a minor update to add support for Apple’s latest iOS, which launched earlier today. The new versions are also compatible with iCloud Drive, but without OS X 10.10 Yosemite, the cross-platform file syncing and storage service is of limited use.

Apple notes the latest software comes with stability improvements and bug fixes.

Numbers and Keynote weigh in at 241MB and 459MB, respectively. Users who recently purchased an iOS device can download the apps for free from the iOS App Store, while those with older hardware can buy the apps at a price of $9.99 each.

Update: Apple has released Pages version 2.4.2 with the same iOS 8-centric changes seen in Numbers and Keynote. The app weighs in at 276MB and can be downloaded from the iOS App Store. The article has been updated to reflect the new information.

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