What Apple patents say about Apple Television & Apple TV
There are lots of rumours related to Apple's various forays into the world of TV and TV-related devices and services: updates to the Apple TV; the Apple television project that has apparently now been abandoned; and a TV-streaming service to complement Apple Music.
But in these areas too, patents can offer clues about Apple's future plans.
Apple accessory patent: Apple TV remote with biometric information
On July 2015 Apple was granted a patent that describes an Apple TV remote that uses biometric data, such as fingerprints or facial images.
This device would be a winning accessory for Apple. It would save you time for entering personal accounts, with no need to type in any password. It would let you get content that is targeted just for you, depending on what you've previously watched. And parents will instantly see the potential: under-18s wouldn't be able to access adult content.
Apple TV patents: 'Desk-free computer'
One of the most recent patents that could well relate to Apple's future venture into the living room is a patent that described a "desk-free computer" that uses a super-intelligent projector.
The computer's projector contains an accelerometer, ambient light sensor and depth sensor to ensure the optimum image is projected onto any surface you choose. These qualities combined with the fact that it's wireless make it completely portable.
Speculation suggests that, if paired with a suitable controller, this patent could be used for the rumoured Apple television.
Apple television patents: Transparent display
In 2014, Apple was awarded a patent for a transparent display that shows images using lasers. This means that, when the display isn't in use, it simply looks like a pane of glass.
This is a pretty cool invention that sounds very futuristic, but the most recent Apple Television rumours have finally suggested that it's not going to launch after all, despite years of speculation.
Apple TV patents: Gaming on Apple TV
We've been hearing rumours about gaming coming to the Apple TV, which could launch as soon as June at WWDC 2015, so the emergence of a related Apple patent was greeted with much excitement.
The patent described a technology that can allow users to carry out motions to interact with apps by using laser beams that map the 3D space between the device and the user. If this sounds a bit familiar, it's probably because it's very similar to the technology used in the Xbox Kinect controller, and in fact the patent is officially filed by PrimeSense, the company that Apple purchased in 2013 and is behind the 3D motion tracking technology used in the Kinect.
Apple says that the technology would allow a "gesture-based user interface, in which user movements… control an interactive computer application, such as a game, in place of tactile interface elements such as a mouse, joystick or other accessory."
What Apple patents say about Apple accessories
Apple doesn't just patent technology that relate to its main hardware. The company also has several patents covering accessories and other gadgets.
Apple accessory patent: Fusion keyboard
Apple wants to satisfy all its users, both the active and lazy ones. Is it too much effort moving your hand away from the keyboard to grab your touchpad? With Apple's 'fusion keyboard' it shouldn't be a problem any more.
Awarded in May 2015, the 'fusion keyboard' patent sketches a keyboard that features a multi-touch sensor and multi-purpose depressible keys.
Keys would have a touch-sensitive surface and would work like a touchpad; they would recognise touch movements of your fingers and, depending on your gestures, you would be able to generate different cursor inputs, without the need for a trackpad.
The keyboard would also feature keys that can be depressed to various levels. Pressing down a key on the first level would produce a command, but pressing the same key on its second level would result in a complete different input.
The system would also consider your hand differently; one hand would be charged to enter the text, while the other would give cursor inputs.
It might take a bit of getting used to, to be honest.
Apple accessory patents: Health-tracking headphones
In February 2014, Apple was granted a patent for health monitoring headphones that can detect body temperature, heart rate and perspiration levels. This "sports monitoring system for headphones, earbuds and/or headsets" adds evidence to the theory that Apple has a keen interest in the fitness and health industry.
Apple accessory patents: Siri Smart Dock
An intriguing patent filed by Apple describes a "smart dock" that would always be listening for spoken commands. Ideal for use with Siri, the "smart dock for activating a voice recognition modes of a portable electronic device" patent covers an accessory that could include a speaker, microphone and built-in screen as well as the ability to integrate Siri into your home.
When an iPad or iPhone is paired with the unit, Siri would constantly listen out for prompts, such as play a song or skip, for example.
Apple accessory patents: iPen smart stylus
On July 2015 the US Patent and Trademark office published an Apple patent with a revolutionary flavour.
The patent sketches a stylus that is able to record texture, colours and other features of a surface and produce an image similar to the surface recorded.
And Apple seems to have other surprises in store. Its futuristic stylus will also include an inertial measurement unit (IMU) sensor that will be able to collect specific data in order to produce 3D images.
The iPen described in Apple's many related patents is effectively a smart stylus. It could have sensors that enable the pen to recognise the orientation it's being held in relative to the touchscreen of the device being used. This would improve the accuracy and experience of using a stylus. It could also have a camera, audio recorder, laser pointer and projector built in.
A patent published in March 2014 describes a stylus that comes complete with an extendable nib that may help to replicate multiple tools such as pens, paintbrushes and pencils. In addition to being able to extend the nib, Apple's patent also suggests that the stylus nib could be swapped out for a variety of different nibs for different purposes (above).
Further stylus patents surfaced in April 2015, despite being filed back in 2011. The additional application sparked comment from trusted analyst Ming-Chi Kuo who things that a stylus might be launched by Apple in the second half of 2015 as an optional accessory for an iPad Pro.
There have been rumours about an iPad Pro tablet that comes with a stylus, aiming to rival the likes of Microsoft's Surface Pro 3. All of the speculation about the iPad Pro can be found in our iPad Pro rumours article.
And if that's not enough, even more stylus patents appeared in May 2015, adding a grip sensor and strain gauge into the mix.
Apple accessory patents: Solar charging iPhone, MacBook accessory
Apple's future portable devices could benefit from a portable solar panel accessory that Apple appears to be investigating. A patent published by the US Patent & Trademark Office in October 2013 describes a power management system that would provide energy for an iOS device or MacBook until the battery is fully charged.
Apple is certainly interested in solar power. The majority of power generated at its iCloud data center in North Carolina is generated from on-site solar panels that could power 17,600 homes for a year, according to Reuters. Just this week, Apple has announced plans to build a components plant in Arizona that will run entirely on renewable energy, including solar energy.
Apple accessory patents: Self-adjusting earphones
In July 2013, USPTO published an Apple patent application covering earphones that can automatically adjust audio output based on the quality of the seal detected by a built-in microphone or by measuring electrical currents.
The patent describes earbuds that can measure how well they are sealed to user's ears in order to adjust the audio to provide the optimum listening experience.
Apple accessory patents: Hotspot
Apple could be working on a wireless hotspot if a newly spotted patent is to believe. The application, which was actually filed back in 2013 but published in May 2015, shows a cylindrical wireless hotspot that would act as a way for devices to connect to the internet by converting a carrier's signal into WiFi.
Turning on the hotspot would require a simple twist, and there would be no buttons involved.
Apple accessory patents: Advanced Smart Cover/ Smart Case
Apple has published several patents relating to its Smart Cover and Smart Case designs for the iPad. Each patent adds advanced functionality to the cases.
In June 2014, USPTO published an Apple patent filing for an "Integrated visual notification system in an accessory device," which describes an iPad case or cover that can protect the screen while also providing illuminated alerts when the iPad gets a notification, for example.
An Apple patent that emerged in March describes an iPad Smart Cover that acts as an inductive charging point to provide wireless power to the iPad and other devices.
When Apple sent out the invitations for its iPad Air launch, it was widely expected that Apple was about to launch such accessory, as the company hinted "We still have a lot to cover."
Another Smart Cover that Apple's been investigating features an integrated multitouch keyboard. The keyboard, while part of the Smart Cover, can be detached for more comfortable use.
What Apple patents say about future tech
While many of Apple's patents can be related to current Apple products, some are extra advanced and seem quite futuristic. Here's a peek of what the future could hold if the technology listed in Apple's patents ever become a reality.
Apple future tech: Siri-controlled home
Apple has been granted patents for a system of sensors that could allow Siri to take over your house. Together, the network of sensors could be used to detect motion, time, light and more to help Siri provide relevant information and carry out actions.
One example used in the patent filings is that Siri could remind you to take your medicine when it detects that it is 8am and you're in the kitchen (presumably where your pills and water are).
This patent was actually filed back in 2005, before the first iPhone had even launched (the original iPhone came later in 2007). The patent references other patents that date all the way back to the 1970s, so it's clear that voice control has been a keen interest for Apple for years.
Apple has already kicked off its HomeKit movement, and speculation suggests that Apple will make Siri part of a new Apple TV that will act as a hub for the smart home system.
Apple future tech: Virtual reality head-mounted display
Apple has been awarded two patents by USPTO that cover head mounted displays, one that would work in a similar way to the Oculus Rift, allowing users to play immersive games wearing the goggles, and another that takes a more Google Glass approach with a smaller design.
The first of the two head-mounted displays described in a patent filed in 2006 is designed to provide optimum image quality using a laser light engine. The second patent, filed in 2008, describes Apple goggles with two adjustable screens that can be aligned with your eyes and adjusted for those who wear glasses.
Further still, the patent suggests that the goggles could identify users by tracking eyeballs, voice and fingerprints.
Apple future tech: Virtual keyboard
In February 2013, USPTO published a patent that describes a new depth perception technology that could be used to introduce virtual keyboards.
The application covers a "Depth perception device and system" which can determine the distance to an object or the depth of an object using a combination of image capturing sensors and lasers.
The technology could be used in combination with a projected control panel such as a keyboard to create a virtual keyboard. The technology would be able to determine the selection of a particular button or input of the control panel by determining the depth of a user's finger, a stylus or other input mechanism.
Apple future tech: Holographic touchscreen
This is another pretty cool patent from Apple that gives us a glimpse at what the future could hold. First spotted in September 2014, the patent covers an advanced display that combines lasers, micro lenses and sensors that enable it to put out a three-dimensional holographic image that's completely interactive. (I can't stop imagining this scene from The Hunger Games).
Apple future tech: 3D gestures
We're not expecting holographic touchscreens to arrive any time soon, but this next patent from Apple seems much more realistic for a 2015 or 2016 release. It details a "Three dimensional user interface session control" system that would take advantage of the motion-sensing hardware the company has access to after it acquired PrimeSense, the company behind the Xbox's Kinect controller.
The system would work through the use of a camera attached to the top of a TV or Mac that would detect 3D motion gestures made by the user and react accordingly.
Apple future tech: GoPro rival
Another patent that could result in an Apple product in the not-too-distant future is one that was granted to the company in January 2015 for a remote-controlled action camera that's a bit like the GoPro (but not quite, because according to the patent Apple doesn't like the GoPro very much).
You can find out more about Apple's rumoured action camera in our Apple wearable camera rumour round-up.
Below are some of the patents we had in this article that have now been implemented in new products. They're in their original format, so you can see what we thought the technology might be used for (and actually still could), followed by the reality of what Apple has used the technology for so far.
Apple hasn’t given up on Haptic feedback. What seemed a bit of a buzz technology for other companies a few years ago is still being developed inside the Apple labs. Haptic feedback systems put a low level voltage through a display to recreate the physical sensation of touching buttons on a flat piece of glass.
Apple's U.S. Patent No. 8,378,797 for a "Method and apparatus for localization of haptic feedback" shows that Apple is looking to develop a more accurate haptic feedback system. It is clear that haptics can move far beyond the ‘buzzy’ screens of older smartphones, and could enable apple to create a virtual home button, and on-screen keys that feel similar to the real thing.
We think this technology has been used in Apple's new Force Touch Trackpad, which is found on the company's latest MacBooks. It uses haptic feedback to trick the user into thinking they've physically clicked the trackpad, but in actual fact the trackpad doesn't move at all - it simply detects how hard you're pushing to know whether you're tapping or attempting to click.
An additional patent relating to the way we use the iPad describes a pressure sensitive display. USPTO in January published a patent that covers a device such as an iPad with a display that uses built-in pressure sensors to enhance navigation.
The patent, titled "Gesture and touch input detection through force sensing," suggests future products could have at least three force sensors beneath the screen.
The Force Touch display in the Apple Watch seems to use this technology. Like the Force Touch Trackpad, it can detect pressure and therefore allows new gestures.