Microsoft Inconspicuous Mode Patent Makes Smartphones Less Annoying

Microsoft Inconspicuous Mode

The latest patent application of the Redmond giant could make dramatic changes in how our smartphones react in certain environments, such as movie theaters or conference rooms.

There are plenty of situations when a ringing smartphone is inappropriate, and that’s what must have prompted manufacturers to implement a silent or mute mode in the first place. However, we’re only humans, so it’s not unheard of to forget about muting our smartphone during a movie, and even if the ringtone is very discreet, the display’s brightness will surely be uncomfortable for others. Microsoft is looking to solve this by implementing an inconspicuous mode into its smartphones, provided that the company is granted this patent.

Here’s part of the patent’s abstract description: “One problem with the ubiquity of [mobile devices] in so many different environments is that their use is not appropriate in all settings. As one common example, in a theater the sound from a mobile communication device and the light from its display can be distracting to other theater patrons.” That being said, muting the ringtone and dimming the display might be the best solution we have, momentarily.

While I agree that preventing people to use their smartphones while driving (unless they’re doing so with their hands on the wheel) is extremely important, I’m not so fond of the idea of having the inconspicuous mode activated at night. In case of an emergency, people should find out right away what happened, not wait till the morning comes. That’s particularly problematic since Microsoft describes the inconspicuous mode as a profile that’s activated automatically, presumably depending on the location and time.

Should this patent be granted to Microsoft, it might be implemented in a future version of Windows Phone, but more details about that will be available on January 21, when Microsoft will hold a press conference. At that point, the world will learn more about both the desktop and the mobile versions of Windows 10.

If only there was an inconspicuous mode for people, too, so they’re silent while watching a movie at the cinema. Since that’s not really technology-related and it’s (still) impossible to program people, I guess it just depends on how much common sense means to some people.

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Buying Blackberry Could Make Samsung Devices More Secure

Samsung Blackberry Acquisition

If there’s one thing that still redeems Blackberry, it must be its security features, but up until now no other company has thought of acquiring the Canadian smartphone manufacturer for its patents. Samsung is attempting to do that in order to improve the security of its mobile devices.

The patent war has been going on for a few years now, and most acquisitions are made exactly with the purpose of having some unique advantages over the competition. Blackberry may not be getting a lot of love for its design, nor for its latest mobile platform, but there still one area where it excels. Security patents are the things that keep Blackberry relevant in a world where all the other technical specs are changing every other month. Sure, the Passport had flagship specs at the time of its launch, but there aren’t a lot of people out there fond of its design. Hence, Samsung buying Blackberry could lead to those security features being implemented in more pocket-friendly devices. Bear in mind that neither of them confirmed the rumors, despite Reuters claiming to even know the sum Samsung would pay for Blackberry: $7.5bn.

That’s not supposed to mean that without Blackberry’s patent portfolio Samsung would be naked as a jaybird when facing hackers. South Korea’s tech giant has its own security platform, known as KNOX (not an acronym, just a reference to Fort Knox), but considering that the best devices coming from this manufacturer are running Android, a few additional layers of security wouldn’t hurt. Android has a bit of a dark history as far as security is concerned, with the latest story revealing that Google refuses to fix a bug that affects 60% of Android devices.

A lot of things change when a company is acquired by another, and it is currently unknown how and if Blackberry would continue to exist, should it be bought by Samsung. If Blackberry devices will keep being manufactured post-acquisition (I imagine that the POTUS Obama, the owner of a Blackberry smartphone himself, would frown otherwise), the staff of the Canadian company will keep their jobs. Hopefully, Samsung is interested in more than just getting the patents that would make its devices some of the most secure in the world.

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Nintendo Patent Could Bring Game Boy Emulator to Smartphones

Game Boy Smartphone Emulator

Android and iOS devices already are major productivity killers, but that didn’t stop Nintendo from filing a patent for a smartphone Game Boy emulator.

Smartphones evolve with each passing day, and games that match their capabilities are launched on a regular basis. Despite all that, some of us enjoy going back to the classic titles from 20 or 25 years ago. When people are struck by gaming nostalgia, nothing can stop them from playing their Game Boy favorites on their handheld console. Things can only get better when running such games on a modern-day smartphone, in order to take advantage of all the processing power that’s hidden under the case. An official Nintendo emulator for Game Boy titles may be on its way to our smartphones, or at least that’s what a recent patent application of the Japanese company suggests.

SNES, NES and Game Boy classics have already found a new home on the Wii, Wii U and 3DS, so emulation isn’t a new thing for Nintendo. However, this piece of intellectual property would increase the number of devices capable of running Game Boy apps, and smartphones will surely be among them. A lot of people have been pushing the Japanese behemoth to create emulators for smartphones, especially since its hardware sales are not going that well, with Sony’s PS4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One taking the first spots. Spin-off games from the Pokémon series have made an appearence on iPhone and iPad, but full ports are still a long way.

There’s a good reason why emulators on iOS generally get shut down right after the Apple review team becomes aware of their existence, but it should be noted that none of these is made by Nintendo. An official emulator would probably change how things work, but even this patent application doesn’t guarantee that. Nintendo has been securing patents for similar purposes in the past, so this might be nothing more than a strategy to make sure that no one else is thinking of emulating classic games on smartphones. It remains to be seen whether Game Boy titles will make an appearance on our mobile devices any time soon. How would you fancy to play Super Mario Land, Tetris or Tennis on a Samsung Note 4?

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Apple Wireless Wristband Concept to Store Health Data in Hospitals

Apple Wireless Communication Wristband

The Cupertino company has had a great taste for inventions, judging by the great number of patents that were granted by the US Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday. One of them is a wireless hospital wristband that employs microwave frequencies to transmit health data from patients to the smartphone of their doctor.

Even though Apple seemed to have been holding back from all the wearable tech thing, it’s amassing patents over patents, either for itself, or to make sure that others can be sued in case they get the same idea. One of the 58 patents that were granted today to Apple refers to a wireless communication wristband that could change the way doctors interact with the health data pertaining to their patients.

The disposable wireless wristband envisioned by Apple would be able to store such data as “medical records, administered medications or procedures [like CT scans] that had been performed on a patient earlier during hospitalization.” More precisely, it packs an “autonomous battery-free microwave frequency communication device” that could easily be embedded in wristbands, flyers and cards.

A smartphone running an app developed specifically for this purpose (why lie ourselves, it’s going to be an iPhone and an iOS app) will gather data from the communication device and present it in an easily interpretable form. The iPhone will be able to read the stored data and write any modifications that need to be made concerning the patient’s medication, hospitalization time, so on and so forth. I assume that access would be granted to the wireless hospital wristband after pairing it to the iPhone and entering a PIN or something of the sort.

The communication device has a lot of potential, considering the Health app that Apple showcased at its Worldwide Developers Conference in June, and the iTime smartwatch, which the world assumes that will be launched this fall. Fitness and medical issues aside, Apple thinks that this communication device could lead to much thinner wallets, as a single card could act as an ID, loyalty card and credit card, all in one place. I’m not a big fan of Apple products, but that’s something I’d definitely like to see.

It is currently unknown if and when Apple plans to launch any products based on the recently granted patents.

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New Apple Patent Suggests iPhone 6 Could Pack 3D Photography

iPhone 3D Photography

The 46 newly acquired patents hint at the things Apple might have in store for us in the future. Knowing how fast this company implements its technologies, however, it’s not a certainty that the next iPhone will sport 3D photography.

The patent portfolio of the Cupertino company just got bigger, but the sad news is that Apple does not always use the technologies it patents. In some cases, it just patents some concepts just to make sure that other manufacturers don’t implement them in their products. This news comes just a couple of days after Apple obtained a patent for the three year-old design of its iTime smartwatch. Come to think of it, they might have made the right choice by naming their smartwatch so, as Swatch was ready to sue them, had they picked iWatch instead. Back to Apple’s 3D photography patents, though, the company intends to implement that technology using a single camera.

How’s that important? In the past, both smartphone (HTC) and standalone camera (Fujifilm) manufacturers played with the idea of 3D photography, but their approach implied using two stereoscopic cameras. The results weren’t always satisfying, fact that prompted Apple to look for an alternative. iPhone’s 3D camera, assuming we’ll get to see one in the next iteration of Apple’s smartphone, will shoot in 3D by shifting the perspective while capturing the image. Not exactly a mind-blowing concept, but it should get the job done, assuming the patented technology is implemented correctly.

The company has been fooling around with this concept in the past, as it submitted patents for 3D goggles and glasses-free 3D displays (two things that mutually exclude each other, if you ask me). The concept behind Apple’s perspective shifting camera is terribly simple and easy to implement, so the company should really get to it if it really means to differentiate somehow from such competitors as Google and Amazon. The Project Tango and the Fire smartphones each tackle 3D in a completely different manner, and ultimately serve different purposes. iPhone users could have a chance for once to have a somehow original feature in their overpriced smartphones. It remains to be seen what Apple plans to do with its newly acquired patents.

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New Patent Suggests that Microsoft Might Enter Smartwatch Market

Microsoft Smartwatch Fitness Patent

It was about time the Redmond giant made its move in the wearable tech market. Google already proved that it’s aiming high with Android Wear, and an Apple smartwatch has been in talks for quite a while, so it would be great if Microsoft joined the party, as well.

Last week, Microsoft was awarded a patent that hints at the possibility of making a fitness tracking smartwatch. While it has become customary for companies to patent technologies so that others don’t get to use them without paying a hefty license fee, chances are the Redmond tech company might actually enter this market and launch a wearable before you know it.

Judging by this patent, Microsoft’s wearable will accomplish more functions than a simple smartwatch or a run-of-the-mill fitness tracker. In fact, the device would be able to handle text messaging, phone calls and music controls, which would make it anything but ordinary. The big question is whether it will run on its own these smartphone functions, or maybe it will act as a smartphone companion. I must admit, the latter option would be a bit disappointing, since most current smartwatches work like that.

The Microsoft wearable is supposed to come with a docking station that also acts as an alarm clock. Speak of covering multiple fields, eh? On top of that, the wristband’s displayed is designed to be detachable, so in theory it could be paired with other exercise equipment. I’m thinking exercise or regular bikes, treadmills and other such things.

Assuming that it will have a decent price, a device with so many functions should sell like hot cakes. The only drawback would be the operating system, since Microsoft would most probably opt for its own Windows Phone OS, which as you know, doesn’t benefit from the greatest app ecosystem in the world. A viable option would be to run some sort of an Android emulator on its WP devices. After all, that’s how a rumor sounded back in February, when some claimed that Microsoft might bring Android apps to Windows 8 and WP8. On another hand, Microsoft might take Samsung’s route and develop an entirely new OS for its wearables. Time will tell, as currently there’s no certainty that Microsoft will ever do anything with this patent.

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Microsoft Offers Motorola Solutions Access to Its IP Portfolio


The agreement signed today by Microsoft and Motorola Solutions affects Motorola devices running Android or Chrome OS that could be in any way affected by the Redmond giant’s patent portfolio.

By doing so, Motorola Solutions protects itself against any lawsuits that could be initiated by other tech companies.

Nick Psyhogeos, general manager, associate general counsel, IP licensing of the Innovation and Intellectual Property Group at Microsoft, wanted to emphasize that “Microsoft and Motorola Solutions share a respect for intellectual property and a commitment to fair and reasonable patent licensing programs. Microsoft prefers licensing to litigation, since licensing is a more effective way to share technology and accelerate the pace of innovation.”

Obviously, Psyhogeos recognizes the power of having a strong patent portfolio, as this can be a great advantage in many types of negotiations. On top of that, the fact that two such great companies decided to share some of their common patents protects both of them of lawsuits in the future.

On the other hand, Joe White, vice president of Enterprise Mobile Computing, Motorola Solutions, pointed out that “Our Motorola Solutions communications technology works best for everyone when it is backed with robust intellectual property and patents. We are pleased to have agreed upon a solution that allows our customers to purchase Android products from Motorola Solutions with confidence.”

In today’s world, sharing patent portfolios is a great sign of trust. Intellectual property became more and more important, and now it is an essential element for maintaing healthy tech ecosystems. Since December 2003, Microsoft has provided coverage in about 1,100 licensing agreements. This way, many of this tech giant’s customers, partners and competitors gained access to its intellectual property portfolio.

Mind you, Motorola Solutions is by no means the first Android manufacturer to gain access to Microsoft’s patent and IP portfolio. In time, such companies as Samsung, ZTE, LG, HTC, Acer and Barnes & Noble have had the same benefits.

Hopefully, more companies will realize in time that technology progresses a lot faster when there are less disputes regarding intellectual property and patents. It’s not wrong to be proud of your own inventions, and protecting them is actually encouraged. Still, a lot more could be achieved if tech companies joined forces and started solving problems together.

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Apple’s Latest Patent Makes Texting While Walking Less Dangerous

Apple iMessage Transparent Texting

Falling off a cliff is not that far-fetched of an idea if you’re texting while walking. This is exactly the kind of scenarios Apple is trying to prevent with the patent it filed for today.

Today, Apple’s patent portfolio became even larger, with the addition of transparent texting. The technology behind it isn’t complicated at all. The background of the iMessage app is replaced by a continuous video feed from the smartphone’s camera. Needless to say, this could help iPhone users avoid a lot of accidents, but Transparent Texting is not without downsides. Any additional task causes the battery to drain faster. All in all, this compromise might be worth it, considering the tragedies this technology could prevent.

Many of the accidents caused by a phone happen because the owner cannot focus on his path either because he is listening to music aloud, or because he is texting. In the first context, there’s not much to do about it, and people should pay more attention while crossing the street and even when just walking, if they listen to music while walking. Apple’s patent offers a solution to the second problem, though, and it should be mentioned that this solution isn’t particularly new.

The iSheep will argue that Apple came with yet another innovative idea, while all the other tech giants lack imagination and are way behind the Cupertino company. And they’d be wrong again. The app Type n Walk, which was launched back in 2009, did exactly the same thing as Apple’s Transparent Texting, but you guessed it, the developer of this app didn’t have a patent for that. A clip of how the app works is available below.

There is also the possibility of patenting a technology and never implementing it in any products, just so that others don’t use it. If, by any chance, Apple decides to include this among the features of iMessage, I just hope that the bright minds who will be using it don’t text while driving, assuming that there aren’t any dangers if the background of the messages is transparent.

It remains to be seen what attitude Apple will adopt towards the app developers that already use this technology in their products.

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Lenovo Acquires the Mobile Patents of Unwired Planet for $100M

Lenovo Unwired Planet Patent Portfolio

Today’s battles between tech companies are won not by who has the best products, but by who owns the most patents, apparently. In this context, Lenovo bought 21 families of patents from Unwired Planet.

Lenovo already had a line of mobile products, even before buying Motorola Mobility from Google back in January. However, when that acquisition took place, the search giant stripped Motorola Mobility of about 17,000 patents, so the Chinese manufacturer had to create new technologies on its own or buy patents from elsewhere in order to bring innovation into its smartphones.

Jay Clemens, general counsel of Lenovo, stated that “This investment is an extension of Lenovo’s existing intellectual property portfolio. It will serve the company well as we grow and develop our worldwide smartphone and mobile PC Plus business in new markets.”

Philip Vachon, chairman of Unwired Planet’s board of directors and head of its intellectual property committee, expressed his excitement regarding this acquisition: “We are pleased to have reached an agreement with one of the world’s leading global technology companies. We wish Lenovo continued success going forward.”

In the recent past, Unwired Planet made itself a few important enemies, as it sued Apple and Google over 20 of its patents that had been used without a license by the two tech giants in the manufacture of their handsets. Considering that Unwired had the patents for 3G and LTE mobile technologies among the 21 families that it sold to Lenovo, it’s not difficult to believe that this company had solid reasons for suing Google and Apple. Now that Lenovo holds these patents, it will probably solve the problems with Google in a peaceful way, given their recent transaction.

Chinese technology company Lenovo Group Ltd will pay Unwired Planet $100 million in cash, and by all means, this is a small amount for a patent portfolio, considering the sums other companies have paid for such benefits. The deal is expected to be completed in 30 days. After that, it will be interesting to see what products Lenovo will launch based on the newly-acquired patents. Or maybe the Chinese company bought this patent portfolio to protect itself against lawsuits in the future, as this is also a strategy that companies buying patents have adopted in recent times.

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How Lenovo’s Purchase of Motorola Changes the Android Scene


After two years, 17,000 patents, and $12.5 billion, Google is calling it a day with its experiment in Motorola Mobility after announcing its sale to Lenovo.

lenovo-googleMany people assumed from the beginning that all Google wanted from Motorola Mobility was their treasure trove of 17,000 patents and are first in line to say “I told you so,” but that is only partially true.

Google’s deal to sell off Motorola to Lenovo for $2.9 billion actually provides many benefits for both companies as Google is maintaining ownership of “the vast majority” of patents acquired in the previous deal as well as the advanced research division of Motorola.

This deal could have far reaching implications, not just for Google and Lenovo, but for all players in the Android landscape.

Lenovo may be the biggest beneficiary.   Many people in the United States have no idea that Lenovo even makes Android phones, but they are in fact the 4th largest smartphone manufacturer in the world—behind Apple, Samsung, and Huawei—they just have a basically non-existent footprint in the US.  Through this deal they acquired not just licensing for the rights to use Motorola’s patents (which will remain in Google’s portfolio), but the rights to use Motorola’s branding for their products.

This gives Lenovo a major foothold to previously untapped markets besides access to one of the richest patent portfolios and ownership of the Moto-X, which has become one of the best reviewed phones ever.

Whether or not Lenovo decides to stick with Motorola’s current lineup and strategy remain to be seen, but it would be a smart move to continue what Google started.  Lenovo doesn’t claim any initial intentions to make any drastic cuts in employees or programs.  Lenovo Group Ltd. Chairman and Chief Executive Yang Yuanqing said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that they intend to grow the Motorola brand “not just in the U.S. and Latin America, where [the brand] is strong today. We will also introduce the Motorola brand in other markets so we can have decent growth.”  If this is handled anywhere similar to the way they handled their acquisition of IBMs “Think” brand, then we can expect Motorola to see a prominence it hasn’t had for quite some time.

Many people are calling Google the loser in the deal, since they are re-selling the company just 2 years later for $9.6 billion less than they purchased it for originally, but this is not a clean cut parting of ways.  First of all—as I already mentioned—Google is keeping most of the patents they acquired in the original deal as well as Motorola’s advanced research division, which is where many of Google’s crazy ideas have come from, such as the modular modifiable smartphone—project Ara—and a plethora of fancy security devices such as passwords that are ingestible or tattooed.  This section will feel right at home under the mysterious and bizarre Google X program.

We also can’t discount the impact of the Moto-X and Moto-G.  Google was able to use Motorola to prove that low cost, bloat free, Android phones could be a big sensation.  We can’t ignore the impact of the statement made by these devices when we look at the insane 10 year patent sharing agreement Google recently arranged with Samsung.  Google effectively proved that their way was best for Android, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more OEMs following suit.

The biggest loser in this whole situation may be HTC.  The Taiwanese company has been fighting to establish branding and gain market share for the past few years, but now that the Motorola brand is buffeted by the well-oiled assembly lines of Lenovo, that uphill battle may have gotten a lot more vertical.  Not to take all the wind out of their sales, though.  The HTC One was widely considered the Best smartphone of 2013 in a close battle with the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the Moto-X.  2014 will be their last chance to gain what competitive advantage they can, because the market is about to get a lot less forgiving.

As always, we will wait and see how things develop, but it’s undeniable that this could be considered an earthquake in the ever shifting terrain in the world of Android manufacturers.

Sources: CNET, WSJ, Mashable

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