We round up the latest Apple patent news and decipher the clues they give us to Apple's future product launches and updates.

Updated, Friday 20th July 2012: This week Apple has secured a wide-ranging patent that appears to cover most of the iPhone's essential functions, and coud conceivably spell trouble for Google Android.

As this site's Mark Hattersley wrote yesterday:

"Apple on Tuesday was granted 25 patents that encompass almost all user interface elements used by modern smartphones. Everything from e-mail, telephone, camera, video player, photos, search, and most importantly multi-touch (the system of using multiple finger gestures on a touch screen display) have all been granted to the Cupertino-based company.

"The company, responsible for the original iPhone, as well as subsequent iPod touch and iPad devices, now has the legal right to object to almost every aspect of rival mobile devices, particularly the Android operating system developed by Google."

Hattersley also reported this week on a new Apple patent for a peripheral-charging technology that is expected to cover the iPhone 5.

"This could indicate that Apple is looking to reduce the overall size of the iPhone (as well as other iOS devices). It could also indicate continued attempts by Apple to reduce the size of device components to increase the space available to the battery," he wrote.

Past weeks' patents

Apple is one of the most secretive companies, almost always managing to keep the details of its product launches hidden from public knowledge until the very moment Tim Cook strides out on stage to unveil a new iPhone, iPad or line of updated MacBooks. So how can innovation-hungry gadget fans get clues about Apple's future directions? By studying its patent activity.

Not everything Apple patents will lead to a concrete product, but if it's planning something, one of the first things the company does is get a patent request in to head off future competition.

In this (hopefully) regularly updated roundup we're going to collect the latest patent news from the Apple camp, to give you an idea of what to expect in upcoming Apple products. Whether it's a small technolopgy that could appear in the iPhone 5 or the seed of an entirely new Apple line, come back to this page for the latest Apple patent developments.

Patent law

Week ended 6th July 2012

Apple has been granted 22 new patents this week, according to Patently Apple. In our roundup of the most interesting, let's start with...

Bluetooth wireless iPhone headset/wired charging cable

The US Patent & Trademark Office has published an Apple application (Apple-ication?) for a patent that covers a "wireless communication headset with wired and wireless modes".

"The wireless headset can include a headset connector assembly that can be coupled to a cable connector of a cable, which can in turn be connected to a telephone," the patent application reads. It goes on to specify that "the wireless communication headset is operable to transmit audio data to the telephone using Bluetooth communication".

Apple has launched a Bluetooth headset in the past, and stopped production of the device in 2009. The main difference with prospective products to be covered by this patent is the addition of the cable, which could serve to charge the headset and operate it as a wired headset when battery life is an issue.

"The communication headset is operable to receive power from the telephone through the cable when the at least one electrical contact is coupled to the cable and the cable is coupled to the telephone," the patent explains.

Water-damage detector for the iPhone

Water-proofing is one of those rumours that come around every time the iPhone or iPad are due for an update; whether we'll actually see that come to pass is debatable, but a patent has at least been awarded for a system that can determine whether water has entered a device.

(This would have been handy, you might think, in this submerged-then-superheating-iPhone incident.)

The patent describes an electronic device that "includes a hole disposed at least partially through the enclosure. The electronic device also includes a detector configured to provide at least one visual indication after being immersed in water." Hey, this one's quite simple. Patent law is a breeze!

Apple repair technicians (or civilians, presumably) will be able to tell that the iPhone has taken water on board thanks to an indicator: "a moisture-indicating detector viewable through the connector opening and the housing opening".

Enhanced, configurable surround sound for home cinemas

AppleInsider has dug up a patent Apple-ication (that's definitely going to stick) filed in March, and related to another filing from 2007. It allows for a software 'panner' in which surround sound setups can support multiple inputs and multiple configurations, and be extensively customised for optimal subjective sound quality.

The gist of the patent is that this new system's principle virtue will, in classic Apple style, be that of simplicity.

"Conventional sound panners present a graphical user interface to help the operator to both manipulate the source audio signal and to visualize how the manipulated source audio signal will be mapped to the sound space," the filing reads. "However, given the number of variables that affect the sound manipulation, and the interplay between the variables, it is difficult to visually convey information to the operator in a way that is most helpful to manipulate the sound to create the desired sound… improved techniques are desired for visually conveying information in a user interface of a sound panner."

AppleInsider's parsing of the patent is that "Apple's solution is a panner that would allow users to manipulate a source audio signal as it applies to all speakers in the surround sound setup at once."

Sound panner patent

Music playlist creation

This one is less indicative of future releases and more about shoring up past glories from copycat imitators. Patently Apple reports that, as an HTC competitor to the iPod touch comes up on the rails, the granting of a patent covering the creation of music playlists couldn't have been better timed.

Music playlist patent

Picture courtesy of Patently Apple