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Apple wants to monitor your blood pressure

Mirrored selfie cams, ticket trackers, VR anywhere and other patents from Big Tech.

Apple wants to monitor your blood pressure

Apple's design for a blood pressure monitor.

Image: USPTO/Apple

It was a bit of a fallow week this week for patents from Big Tech. Perhaps everyone was distracted by … literally all the other tech news happening this week. Nonetheless, there were a few zany ones in the mix, including a blood pressure wearable from Apple, a mirrored camera from Facebook, and a ticket-watching service from Amazon. Not that you're likely to need a ticket to anything anytime soon.

And remember: The big tech companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the future.

Alphabet

Conversational replies

If you're too lazy to reply to every message you get from distant friends and acquaintances, this new patent from Google might be of some use. It outlines a system that can understand what's in photos or messages sent to someone and generate a response based off of the content. The only example given in the patent art is a user being sent a picture of the Eiffel Tower, to which the system decides to reply, "I am no architect, but the Eiffel tower seems like quite a construction!" If that's the level of quality of response to be expected from this, definitely don't use it on anyone you care about.

Separating insects

Not exactly the first thing that would've sprung to mind as something Alphabet would hold a patent on, but its Verily life-sciences company now has a patent for a method of mechanically separating insects. The patent says that the "reasons for separating insects are various," but doesn't list what they are. Why ever you might want to separate male and female or old and young insects, Alphabet is here for you.

Amazon

Recommending new clothes based on body scans

If you don't have a problem with Amazon having a detailed scan of the topography of your body, and you hate shopping for clothes, then this might be the thing for you. The company has a new patent for a process that scans your body, keeps that information on file, along with purchases you've made in the past, and uses that information to find clothes online that would fit you and go with the clothes you already own. No more dragging a friend to the store to see if clothes look good on you — now you can have AI do it for you.

Proactively reserving tickets to bands you like

It's a drag to miss out on concerts by bands you love because you don't have the time to sit in a virtual queue or you just didn't know they were coming to town. Amazon seems to have an idea to make the ticket-buying process a little easier. Through the system it envisions, you would indicate that you're a fan of a certain artist, how many tickets you'd generally like to buy, where you'd like to sit, and how much you'd like to pay. It could even do parts of this through checking purchase and music-streaming histories. The system would then alert you when tickets to that band are on sale so you can jump on them, rather than having to wait all day at the computer to get them. I can't wait til Joe Songbird is next in town.

Apple

Blood pressure monitor

Apple announced its latest Apple Watch this week, and it comes with a new blood-oxygen sensor onboard. While that might be useful if you have chronic lung issues (or, you know, COVID), most people probably aren't going to want to know that all the time. Many more people, however, probably do want to know if their blood pressure is trending in the wrong direction. This is a tougher challenge to solve, given the amount of pressure the cuff needs to work. The patent suggests using several sensors instead of a single cuff to measure how long it takes for blood to move around the wearer's body.

Braille on an Apple Watch band

Apple prides itself on the accessibility functions of its products, especially the iPhone. Apparently it's looking to take things a step further with the Apple Watch. A new patent this week outlines a band for the wearable replete with tiny motors all over it that could raise or lower the surface area around them, creating something that would allow tactile messages in Braille to be formed. This seems like it'd be a bit of a power drain for the watch, but probably well worth the tradeoff for anyone with vision impairments.

Facebook

A camera with a mirror on it

Some people have had qualms with the most powerful social network in the world making webcam devices like the Portal, but others are fans. And that's probably why Facebook is exploring designing another camera device that features a mirrored front. It would let you line up perfect selfies without needing the device to have its own screen or be linked up to another device. Given how much remote work is likely to still be a big part of many people's lives for a while longer, this seems like a pretty smart idea — if you don't mind it coming from Facebook.

Microsoft

Using real-world objects to orient yourself in VR

VR often needs a system that has to be set up to figure out the boundaries of where you can move in your room so that you don't accidentally walk into a wall. Microsoft's patent suggests using objects in the room you're in to anchor your experience. That could be something on the floor, a window or even your bed. Being able to dynamically anchor the experience like this would make it simple to use your VR headset in multiple different locations without having to go through a complicated setup process as well.

Protocol | Policy

5 things to know about FCC nominee Gigi Sohn

The veteran of some of the earliest tech policy fights is a longtime consumer champion and net-neutrality advocate.

Gigi Sohn, who President Joe Biden nominated to serve on the FCC, is a longtime net-neutrality advocate.

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Joe Biden on Tuesday nominated Gigi Sohn to serve as a Federal Communications Commissioner, teeing up a Democratic majority at the agency that oversees broadband issues after months of delay.

Like Lina Khan, who Biden picked in June to head up the Federal Trade Commission, Sohn is a progressive favorite. And if confirmed, she'll take up a position in an agency trying to pull policy levers on net neutrality, privacy and broadband access even as Congress is stalled.

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Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

If you've ever tried to pick up a new fitness routine like running, chances are you may have fallen into the "motivation vs. habit" trap once or twice. You go for a run when the sun is shining, only to quickly fall off the wagon when the weather turns sour.

Similarly, for many businesses, 2020 acted as the storm cloud that disrupted their plans for innovation. With leaders busy grappling with the pandemic, innovation frequently got pushed to the backburner. In fact, according to McKinsey, the majority of organizations shifted their focus mainly to maintaining business continuity throughout the pandemic.

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Gaurav Kataria
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Protocol | Workplace

Adobe wants a more authentic NFT world

Adobe's Content Credentials feature will allow Creative Cloud subscribers to attach edit-tracking information to Photoshop files. The goal is to create a more trustworthy NFT market and digital landscape.

Adobe's Content Credentials will allow users to attach their identities to an image

Image: Adobe

Remember the viral, fake photo of Kurt Cobain and Biggie Smalls that duped and delighted the internet in 2017? Doctored images manipulate people and erode trust and we're not great at spotting them. The entire point of the emerging NFT art market is to create valuable and scarce digital files and when there isn't an easy way to check for an image's origin and edits, there's a problem. What if someone steals an NFT creator's image and pawns it off as their own? As a hub for all kinds of multimedia, Adobe feels a responsibility to combat misinformation and provide a safe space for NFT creators. That's why it's rolling out Content Credentials, a record that can be attached to a Photoshop file of a creator's identity and includes any edits they made.

Users can connect their social media addresses and crypto wallet addresses to images in Photoshop. This further proves the image creator's identity, but it's also helpful in determining the creators of NFTs. Adobe has partnered with NFT marketplaces KnownOrigin, OpenSea, Rarible and SuperRare in this effort. "Today there's not a way to know that the NFT you're buying was actually created by a true creator," said Adobe General Counsel Dana Rao. "We're allowing the creator to show their identity and attach it to the image."

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Lizzy Lawrence

Lizzy Lawrence ( @LizzyLaw_) is a reporter at Protocol, covering tools and productivity in the workplace. She's a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, where she studied sociology and international studies. She served as editor in chief of The Michigan Daily, her school's independent newspaper. She's based in D.C., and can be reached at llawrence@protocol.com.

Protocol | China

Why another Chinese lesbian dating app just shut down

With neither political support nor a profitable business model, lesbian dating apps are finding it hard to survive in China.

Operating a dating app for LGBTQ+ communities in China is like walking a tightrope.

Photo: Nicolas Asfouri/AFP via Getty Images

When Lesdo, a Chinese dating app designed for lesbian women, announced it was closing down, it didn't come as a surprise to the LGBTQ+ community.

It's unclear what directly caused this decision. 2021 hasn't been kind to China's queer communities; WeChat has deactivated queer groups' public accounts and Beijing has pressured charity organizations not to work with queer activists.

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Zeyi Yang
Zeyi Yang is a reporter with Protocol | China. Previously, he worked as a reporting fellow for the digital magazine Rest of World, covering the intersection of technology and culture in China and neighboring countries. He has also contributed to the South China Morning Post, Nikkei Asia, Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. In his spare time, Zeyi co-founded a Mandarin podcast that tells LGBTQ stories in China. He has been playing Pokemon for 14 years and has a weird favorite pick.

The Oura Ring was a sleep-tracking hit. Can the next one be even more?

Oura wants to be a media company, an activity tracker and even a way to know you're sick before you feel sick.

Over the last few years, the Oura Ring has become one of the most recognizable wearables this side of the Apple Watch.

Photo: Oura

Oura CEO Harpreet Rai swears he didn't know Kim Kardashian was a fan. He was as surprised as anyone when she started posting screenshots from the Oura app to her Instagram story, and got into a sleep battle with fellow Oura user Gwyneth Paltrow. Or when Jennifer Aniston revealed that Jimmy Kimmel got her hooked on Oura … and how her ring fell off in a salad. "I am addicted to it," Aniston said, "and it's ruining my life" by shaming her about her lack of sleep. "I think we're definitely seeing traction outside of tech," Rai said. "Which is cool."

Over the last couple of years, Oura's ring (imaginatively named the Oura Ring) has become one of the most recognizable wearables this side of the Apple Watch. The company started with a Kickstarter campaign in 2015, but really started to find traction with its second-generation model in 2018. It's not exactly a mainstream device — Oura said it has sold more than 500,000 rings, up from 150,000 in March 2020 but still not exactly Apple Watch levels — but it has reached some of the most successful, influential and probably sleep-deprived people in the industry. Jack Dorsey is a professed fan, as is Marc Benioff.

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

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