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Apple’s display tech lets users interact with 3D objects in mid-air

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Thursday, April 24, 2014, 01:44 am PT (04:44 am ET)

A document discovered on Thursday describes an interactive three-dimensional display system that allows users to “touch” objects in mid-air, presenting the illusion of an advanced hologram.

Giant Mirage 3D hologram device uses parabolic mirrors to create illusion of floating three-dimensional objects. | Source: Optigone

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published an Apple patent application for an “Interactive three-dimensional display system,” which details a method of presenting users with what appears to be a 3D image that can be manipulated with touches, swipes and other gestures.

In practice, Apple’s invention uses a variety of known display techniques, along with a bevy of sensors, to present the pseudo-hologram. The basis of the technology can be found in the popular UFO-shaped mirror boxes that “project” a 360-degree 3D image of an object placed inside. To the user, a strawberry, stone or other solid entity seemingly floats just above an opening in the middle of the box.

While the generic mirror box relies solely on optical illusions to function, Apple’s solution is a bit more complex.

The technique is comprised of three parts: a display system that creates a primary 3D image, an optical system that translates the first image into a secondary 3D image in mid-air and a sensor assembly to log user input. Support structures include a processing unit and control circuitry to facilitate feedback.

Source: USPTO

First, the image being projected is digital and not a reflection of a physical object. Apple describes a system in which infrared lasers, or other light emitting devices, project an image into a medium such as a non-linear crystal.

The medium itself may serve as an optical frequency up-converter for light passing through. When configured correctly, the medium can mix and up-convert infrared laser light to the visible spectrum, thus creating a primary 3D image.

According to the document, the non-linear medium is located between two parabolic mirrors, like the aforementioned mirror box. The primary image is reflected off the upper mirror to the lower mirror and ultimately out of a hole in the top mirror. As a consequence of this internal reflection, a secondary hologram-like image appears just above the upper mirror.

Next, a 3D input detection system collects and translates user motion data. To detect movement in 3D space, an infrared, ultraviolet, x-ray or other laser is coupled to a beam expander positioned in the bottom mirror assembly. The laser emits a beam that exits the top mirror and strikes a user’s hand, finger or other control object. Reflected light is collected by image sensors and translated into positioning data by the onboard processor.

In addition to narrowing down a control surface’s location, other sensors can be disposed to track gestures such as “pinch-to-zoom,” swipes and presses. This data is fed into the feedback mechanism, which adjusts the primary 3D image accordingly.

Apple’s 3D image presentation and tracking system is similar to a 360-degree viewable display debuted by Microsoft Research in 2011. As seen above, the system, dubbed “Vermeer,” used many of the same concepts as Apple’s invention to achieve a fairly high-resolution interactive image.

Apple’s interactive 3D image display patent application was first filed for in 2012 and credits Christoph H. Krah and Marduke Yousefpor as its inventors.

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Future Apple devices may boast environmental sensor suite with built-in thermometer

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Thursday, April 24, 2014, 03:24 am PT (06:24 am ET)

A pair of documents unearthed on Thursday detail Apple’s ambitions to make the iPhone — or rumored iWatch — a one-stop-shop for gathering all kinds of data, including information about a user’s surrounding environment.

iWatch concept by Todd Hamilton

In two patent applications published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Apple describes environmental sensor suites that can be embedded into portable electronics like an iPhone, iPad and “wrist-watch” devices. With the so-called “iWatch” rumored to be on the horizon, Apple could conceivably incorporate one or more of the following inventions into the smartwatch to gather humidity, pressure and temperature data.

Apple’s “Electronic devices with environmental sensors” filing covers a component that sports multiple sensors. Attached to an electrical interface like a flexible printed circuit, the environmental sensor could include separate sensors for temperature, pressure, humidity and sound.

Source: USPTO

The printed circuit is mounted within a device chassis in such a way that the component is at least partially enclosed save for an opening that allows sound, air and other environmental materials to interact with system sensors.

While somewhat open to the elements, the sensor package is protected from damage through use of an integrated rigid support structure. As noted in the filing, adding these extra sensing packages to a mobile device would normally require more ports, which could lead to the collection of unwanted debris or harmful material. To solve this problem, Apple suggests the sensor array include a microphone or speaker so that it can be installed into an existing audio port.

As for data, the information gathered by the proposed sensor package can be processed by the device’s on-board CPU and displayed onscreen for user consumption.

In a second patent filing entitled “Electronic devices with temperature sensors,” Apple describes a separate type of sensor that can be incorporated into a device button.

The invention calls for a thermal sensor to be mounted operatively onto a button component that moves within a device’s chassis. For example, the current iPhone 5s volume control actuator would be a good candidate for installation. Switches, slides and other operable parts are also mentioned as possible placement locations.

Apple notes that a thermally conductive metal or other material can be used in the fabrication of said button, which then transfers temperature data to the sensor mounted beneath the surface.

The system can measure any material that comes into contact with the button, including air and a user’s finger. The data can be used to inform the device when it’s too hot or too cold to operate or, more interestingly, display the temperature of a user’s skin onscreen. The latter application could be configured to serve as a wrist-worn health monitor’s thermometer.

Apple’s sensor package patent applications were first filed for in 2012. Henry H. Yang and Matthew E. Last are credited as inventors of the thermal button property, while the two are joined by Romain A. Teil on the environmental sensor filing.

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Rumor: Apple to update current MacBook Air models with new CPUs next week

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Thursday, April 24, 2014, 05:07 am PT (08:07 am ET)

Apple’s existing designs for the 11- and 13-inch MacBook Air will allegedly see a refresh next week, likely with newer and faster Intel processors, according to a new report.

The MacBook Air was last updated in June of 2013 at Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference. But new models may be in the works for next week, potentially dropping on Tuesday, according to MacGeneration.

The French site suggested that Apple will issue a speed bump with the new models, and could also offer new storage options. Given the latest chips available from Intel, it’s likely that the refresh will amount to a small speed bump compared to current offerings, with new CPUs clocked at between 1.4 gigahertz and 1.5 gigahertz.

Those CPUs would remain with Intel’s “Haswell” architecture, as chips featuring the company’s next-generation “Broadwell” design are not scheduled to arrive until the second half of 2014.

Apparently not on tap for next week, however. is the completely redesigned 12-inch MacBook Air with Retina display, said to remain in Apple’s pipeline. Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities expects that product to debut later this year.

Also on tap for 2014, according to Kuo, is a new iMac refresh, potentially with a lower-priced model that could help Apple compete with other all-in-one desktop models from HP and Lenovo. Kuo also believes that a new MacBook Pro with Retina display will arrive later this year.

Last June, the MacBook Air lineup gained all-day battery life thanks to Intel’s ultra-low-voltage Haswell chips, providing up to 9 hours of uptime on the 11-inch model, and a whopping 12 hours on the 13-inch variety. Apple also added faster 802.11ac Wi-Fi to its redesigned 2013 models.

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iPad luring in new users: over 2/3 of Apple’s iPad buyers were new to iPad

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014, 06:17 pm PT (09:17 pm ET)

Over two thirds of people registering an iPad in the last six months were new to iPad, while over half of those registering iPhone were new to iPhone, Tim Cook revealed, highlighting the attraction and loyalty effects Apple is observing in its products.

Cook noted, “Our strong March quarter results bring us to total revenues of over $103 billion for the first six months of the [fiscal] year and earnings per share growth close to double-digits. We estimate that over the last six months, we’ve added over 60 million new registered users of our four product categories.

“Additionally, over two-thirds of people registering an iPad in the last six months were new to iPad, while over half of the people registering iPhones were new to iPhone,” Cook stated.

The Halo Effect and iTunes

“It’s wonderful to add tens of millions of first time Apple product users,” Cook said, “especially considering the strong halo effect seen over and over again in our history. Customers who have a great experience with their first Apple product often become loyal and happy owners of multiple Apple products over time.”

In addition to the “halo effect” cast by attention getting hardware products that drive traffic into Apple’s retail stores, there’s also an iTunes ecosystem effect that drives loyalty among Apple’s customers.

Cook drew attention to the “staggering” figure of Apple’s nearly 800 million iTunes accounts, most of which are tied to the customer’s credit card for friction free buying.

Apple’s corporate controller Luca Maestri noted that Apple’s App Store revenue reached $2.6 billion, growing 9 percent year over year. Maestri also cited statistics from App Annie, noting that Apple’s App Store generated 85% more revenue globally than Google Play during the quarter, despite the idea that Android devices now make up 80 percent of the volume of products fitting the definition of “smartphone.”

Among enterprise clients, Apple is seeing not only strong hardware sales of iPads and iPhones to replace what Maestri called “legacy devices and systems,” but also an expansion of custom app development to “drive innovation at their companies,” a move that ensures those companies will continue to buy iPads rather than generic tablets that might be cheaper up front.

Maestri said Deutche Bank now has nearly 20,000 iPhones on its network, and has created 40 internal iOS apps to “expand the capabilities of its mobile workforce.” Siemens has 30,000 iPhones in use, and has built 15 apps “for field service teams, sales associates and corporate executives for solutions that are only possible with iOS and iPhone. We are really happy with the continued growth and strength of the Apple ecosystem “only possible with iOS and iPhone,” he noted.

“iPad continues to lead all other tablets by far in terms of user engagement, software ecosystem, customer satisfaction and e-commerce,” Maestri noted, pointing out statistics from Chitika noting that U.S. iPad users drive nearly four times the web traffic of all Android tablets combined, while Changewave cited a 98% satisfaction rate for both Apple’s new iPad Air and the iPad mini with Retina Display.

Proprietary Enterprise Apps driving iPad sales

Two thirds of buyers who expect to buy a tablet within 90s plan to buy an iPad, Maestri stated, adding, “iPad continues to allow companies around the world to reimagine the way they use technology to drive efficiency and improve employee satisfaction. “Eli Lilly has deployed over 20,000 iPads and 50 internal apps as part of a laptop replacement program that dramatically increased the productivity and capabilities of its employees” – Apple’s Luca Maestri

“Thousands of iPads are used at FedEx everyday. In an industry where efficiency is critical, FedEx pilots and maintenance crews around the world use iPad to transform operational processes and save the company millions of dollars.”

Maestri also noted that, “Eli Lilly has deployed over 20,000 iPads and 50 internal apps as part of a laptop replacement program that dramatically increased the productivity and capabilities of its employees.”

Additionally, “The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is on its way to deploying iPads to 11,000 providers to transform the way doctors and patients interact. As part of this initiative, a suite of applications is being developed to allow quick access to real-time secure medical information.

“In education, according to the latest data published by IDC, iPad has over 95% share of the U.S. education tablet market as teachers and students increasingly benefit from the growing range of engaging iBooks, textbooks and solutions that are helping to transform the education experience.”

Missed expectations

Cook preceded his comments with an introduction that described Apple’s March quarter performance as setting a new record for a non-holiday quarter, noting that the company surpassed internal expectations despite challenging “currency headwinds” in Japan and other countries. He specifically noted that Apple’s iPad sales came in at the “high end of the company’s expectations.” “We continue to believe that the tablet market will surpass the PC market in size within the next few years and we believe that Apple will be a major beneficiary of this trend” – Tim Cook

Maestri also addressed analysts’ potential concerns about iPad having “missed” expectations by noting that sell through had improved over the year ago quarter, while inventory levels were more slowly replenished, creating a temporarily reduction in inventory at the end of the quarter.

Overall, analysts had expected Apple to sell 19 million iPads in the quarter, based on educated guesswork that involves “channel checks” and other efforts to model an idea of how many devices customers are buying.

Cook reiterated, “we continue to believe that the tablet market will surpass the PC market in size within the next few years and we believe that Apple will be a major beneficiary of this trend.”

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Purportedly ‘leaked’ iPhone 6 case compared with iPhone 5s, Nexus 5 and Note 3 in video

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014, 07:07 pm PT (10:07 pm ET)

A video published on Wednesday compares a case supposedly built to wrap Apple’s next-generation iPhone with Google’s LG-made Nexus 5 and Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3 phablet, offering new perspective on the device’s possible size.

Source: Unbox Therapy via YouTube

After pictures of purported “iPhone 6″ cases made the rounds online last week, YouTube channel Unbox Therapy got its hands on the product for a closer look.

As seen in the clip, the case is substantially larger than Apple’s current iPhone 5s, which boasts a 4-inch screen. According to Unbox Therapy’s Lewis Hilsenteger, the dimensions imply the product was made for a device with a large screen, including a much-rumored 4.7-inch display format.

In comparison to the Nexus 5 and Galaxy Note 3, the supposed iPhone 6 case and paper mock-up is closest to Google’s handset in terms of screen size and dimensions. The Note 3 expectedly eclipsed the case in both width and height.

The pink case also reveals potential handset thickness. Comparing it to the iPhone 5s, Hilsenteger found the entire case to be thinner than the current phone’s 7.6-millimeters chassis.

Other notable features include a sleep/wake button positioned on the side of the device rather than the top, a major departure from Apple’s always consistent physical control layout. In addition, the volume buttons seem to be more in line with the iPad lineup than the round chiclet-style parts used in the most recent iPhone models. Prior to the iPhone 4, Apple’s handset sported rocker buttons for volume control.

The side-mounted sleep/wake button was first suggested in a research note from KGI analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. In the same document, Kuo said Apple will likely release two iPhone models this year, with a 4.7-inch version expected in early fall and a 5.5-inch iteration pushed back to the end of quarter four.

The video backs up rumors that Apple is planning to shift the iPhone’s design toward a rounded edge casing first introduced with the iPad mini.

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Judge denies Apple motion to stay upcoming e-books damages trial

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014, 09:06 pm PT (12:06 am ET)

In yet another denial of Apple’s attempts to halt an impending e-books damages trial, U.S. District Court Judge Denise Cote on Wednesday shot down two motions for a stay, making it clear she intends to kick off proceedings as soon as possible.

Judge Cote’s order denying Apple’s motions was filed alongside letters from state attorneys general and class plaintiffs, both of which are opposed to further delaying a trial start date.

The jurist noted that the upcoming trial, slated to begin on July 14, was already pushed back once from May 2014 to allow for class notice and pre-trial procedures. She points out that Apple itself asked for class certification to be conducted after the case’s liability trial.

In July of 2013, Judge Cote found Apple guilty of colluding with five major book publishers to falsely inflate the prices of e-books sold through its iBookstore. The antitrust case was leveled by the U.S. Department of Justice and resulted in an injunction against Apple and the appointment of external antitrust monitor Michael Bromwich.Plaintiffs in the joint damages case are seeking $280 million in damages, an amount that could be trebled to $840 million if Apple loses.

Following the DOJ action, a joint damages trial was scheduled to commence with plaintiffs including a class of consumers and state attorneys general representing their constituency. Judge Cote granted class status to the group of consumers in March, while the 33 states and territories were allowed in on the suit after Apple lost a bid to prove lack of standing earlier in April.

As for Wednesday’s denial, Apple entered its own letter, with attorney Theodore Boutrous formally requesting a ruling on the company’s motion to stay as the case is being appealed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Barring an order, Apple asked for an administrative stay to seek relief before the court disseminated class notice, something Boutrous said would irreparably harm the company.

Eric Lipman, an assistant attorney general for the state of Texas, filed a letter on behalf of state attorneys general suing Apple in a parens patriae capacity. In it, he said the present litigation will proceed regardless of Apple’s appeal.

“And Apple has utterly failed to identify the irreparable harm that will arise from the dissemination of notice,” Lipman writes, concluding that “the Court should not countenance Apple’s latest effort to further delay a jury’s determination of the damages caused by Apple’s illegal conduct.”

The class plaintiffs echoed Lipman in its letter to Judge Cote, saying

From Class Plaintiffs’ opposition:

A stay of class notice will almost assuredly delay the July 14 trial. This is simply another
Apple delay maneuver (which the Court rejected previously) – or effort to further balkanize these
proceedings.

Later in the day, Apple sent a separate request to the Second Circuit asking the appellate court to intervene in the damages trial, reports Reuters.

From Apple’s filing with the Second Circuit:

The district court is [...] pressing forward with class notice and a trial in both cases in July, despite the irreparable harm to Apple’s reputation among its consumers if class notice is disseminated.

In the end, Apple’s efforts were for not. Judge Cote will further flesh out her ruling in an opinion to be filed sometime in the near future.

Order Denying Apple Motion to Stay e-books suit

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