Inside Apple’s war chest: CIA-like patents for the next-gen iPhone

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Inside Apple's war chest: CIA-like patents for the next-gen iPhone

Chicago (IL) – As
the next iPhone looms just over the horizon, new Sci-Fi patents begin to emerge. They give us a plausible glimpse of iPhone’s new features. While it’s true that most of the patented ideas
will never make it into the iPhone, with Apple all bets are off and every option is worth considering. A best-case scenario is described in the company’s recent
patent filings. It outlines a next-gen iPhone that could have a high-tech
display doubling as a camera capable of recording video, hidden
biometric sensors that would check our voice, retina, ear shape and
fingerprints to ensure only authorized use — meaning even if someone does steal the
handset, your iPhone would automatically notify the police and report
its coordinates.

SLIDESHOW:
Cool Apple patents for next-gen iPhone
(10 pictures)


Reading through Apple’s patents is sometimes more fun
than a Sci-Fi book. The ideas Apple’s engineers describe in patent
filings are at the very least amusing, if not wholly feasible, like the iPhone gloves.
Moreover, Apple patents often give us a glimpse of the mind and future
directions the Cupertino-based consumer electronics giant explores. Where is it we are going? And what’s there for us to know?

Of course, many patents are never implemented in actual products, like the “Handle arrangement with integrated heat pipe” patent that calls for a passive cooling system made of pipes built into
a notebook handle. Since Apple stopped using ugly-looking handles
on MacBooks a long time ago, this one is unlikely to ever see the light of the
day.

Certain portion of patents eventually do make it into
real-life products, however. Inventions like the backlit keyboard, MagSafe
adapter, FireWire interface and the sudden motion sensor. These are all
Apple-patented technologies now standard in Mac devices.

The mother of all patents

In mid-January, Apple was awarded perhaps its most important patent to date. It’s a mammoth 358-page document dubbed “The mother of all iPhone patents”, and it covers all aspects of the iPhone’s current user interface in intricate
detail with a special emphasis on multi-touch and gestures implementation. It also describes many features believed to
be arriving in the future — like blogging, IM programs and video calls.

Of course, Apple’s craziest filings often grab the most media attention. And as we near Apple’s developers conference (slated to run between June 12-18)
where the company is expected to take the wraps off its next-generation
iPhone, new and interesting patent filings begin to pop up in the US
Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) database. Many of them sound a little too
good to be true. Nevertheless, some of them may hold clues to likely
features on next-gen iPhones. Take the “Security using electronics devices” as an example.


MOTHER OF ALL IPHONE PATENTS
Apple was awarded a
mammoth 358 page patent covering all aspects of the iPhone’s user
interface, with a special emphasis on multi-touch and gestures
implementation.

[Click for slideshow]


CIA-grade theft prevention

This particular filing, which was just published earlier today, describes theft prevention in an almost Sci-Fi
manner. Specifically, Apple suggests the iPhone notify authorized security agencies (like the police) via email (or even a phone
call) when it detects a theft. In addition, the phone would wirelessly
provide the police with its coordinates obtained via built-in GPS
circuitry.

Users could activate a monitoring mode which triggers
a silent alarm when a preset level of force is detected, like sudden
movement associated with a brute force snatch-and-run. An additional layer of
security would enable users to set the
device to automatically enter into a lock-down mode after a preset idle
period, or even when an accelerometer sensor detects movement above the
preset level.

This patent fits nicely with the Find My iPhone feature found in beta builds of the upcoming iPhone OS 3.0 software. Working in tandem with Apple’s $99 per year MobileMe cloud service, Find My iPhone
will enable users to locate their lost or stolen iPhones on a world
map display in the MobileMe web interface by triggering the handset remotely
to silently report its position utilizing its built-in GPS-, Wi-Fi- and
cellular-based geolocation features.

 


FIND MY IPHONE (AND CALL THE POLICE)
The recently discovered Find My iPhone feature triggers the iPhone to silently report its location via MobileMe. This suggests Apple’s patent describing new security settings will allow users to set various threshold levels and events which send the iPhone into a lock-down mode. Apple also wrote in the filing that the iPhone could notify police via email or phone call, sending its locations as well.

Read on the next page:  Biometric security, When the display doubles as a camera

Biometric security

Another eyebrow-raising filing was first submitted in September 2008, and is credited to the “iPod father” Tony Fadell. It’s entitled: “Embedded authentication systems in an electronic device.”
Don’t let such a dull title fool you though, this one proposes security
measures that would leverage biometric sensors hidden inside an iPhone
or a Mac to prevent theft or unauthorized use. The proposed implementations
rival the best Bond movies and, in truth, sound too good to be true.

For instance, Apple proposes fingerprint
detection during the “slide to unlock” gesture, which would require a biometric sensor hidden behind the display. Also how MacBooks could utilize the trackpad
or palmrest to read your fingerprints during use.

The
company also wrote that Mac’s built-in iSight camera and a software
could be used to recognize the facial features to determine when a
user is ready to use a computer. And as if that wasn’t
enough, Apple also suggests accompanying software to analyze your
retinal patterns obtained by either the iSight camera or a future front-facing camera
in later-gen iPhones.


BIOMETRIC AUTHENTICATION
Biometric sensors hidden behind iPhone’s display could enable secure authorization by matching your fingerprints during the “Slide to unlock” gesture (left). The same sensor could be built in MacBook’s trackpad or palm rest. Apple even said its iSight camera could record your face and analyze your retina — thereby unlocking extreme biometric protection.
[Click for slideshow]


When the display becomes a camera

It
is this brief mention of a front-facing iPhone camera that indirectly
implies strong video emphasis in the upcoming iPhone. With that in
mind, watchful readers could point their fingers at the filing titled “Integrated sensing display”
— first published in June of 2006. It’s one of our favorites, as this one has
Apple removing the camera in a traditional sense, replacing it with image
sensors wedged between LCD cells directly in the display itself. The idea essentially calls for the
display to double as a camera capable of taking pictures, recording videos while displaying content in real-time. If Apple can pull this one off, its rivals in the mobile
phone space will find it difficult to keep up with any so-equipped next-gen iPhone.


IS IT A DISPLAY? OR  A CAMERA?
We like this one most of all. Image sensors wedged between crystals that make up the LCD could enable the display of future next-gen iPhones to double as a camera, capable of recording images and videos. How cool is that?
[Click for slideshow]