Apple wants to let your friends drive

The latest patent filings from Big Tech.

Apple wants to let your friends drive
Image: Rainbow Designs/Govind Dhiman/Noun Project

The slow summer has finally caught up with patent filings. This week: Google wants to fix your workflow, Apple wants to help you keep your Apple Pencil safe and Microsoft wants everyone to have fun when they play video games, no matter what.

As always, remember that 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.


Allowing for different workflows

Google docs are pretty straightforward: You write in the doc, edit it, allow other people to edit it, and all of the changes are stored in a version history that anyone can see. But a linear workflow isn't the only kind of workflow that's out there. Sometimes a branched workflow is more appropriate, such as when building a web portal. In those instances, each component is composed of various versions that all come together to make one item.

Right now, document editors are only able to do one workflow at a time. But in this patent, Google imagines a way for both workflows to exist in the same document, and you can switch between them, depending on what you're trying to accomplish. That way you don't have to use various editors to do one task, and if you're sharing the document with someone else, they, too, can choose which workflow style they want to use.


Animated avatars

Emojis are fine, but animated Memojis are even better. You can send one to a friend and it can more or less figure out your emotions by analyzing your facial features via the camera. But what if it's not really reading your face and accurately depicting your current mood? Or what if you, for some reason, want to create an avatar when you're in a meeting, as this patent suggests?

Apple wants to figure out other ways of animating avatars, and it's starting with the simplest: by typing in the emotions you're feeling. If you want to send a text to your mom that you can't come to the party, you can send a text that says, "I'm sorry I can't come to the party," then give it a command, "send with a sad robot," and the message will go through with a robot looking sad. The system could even offer a dropdown of various emotions, so you can choose which one to send. Never feel bad for missing a party again, because you've got a sad robot on your side to help.

Storage for your Apple Pencil

Although it's known for its clean designs, some Apple designs are a miss. For example, try using your Magic Mouse while you're charging it. I'll wait.

But that's not the only big miss: No Apple devices have a built-in, dedicated, secure spot for an Apple Pencil. Apple's trying to change that with one of its recent patent filings, which imagines a little slot at the top of your laptop keyboard that can fit a Pencil. Does this have anything to do with last week's patent filing that imagined a touchscreen MacBook?

Give others access to your ride

Most vehicles require a key or key fob to enter. But what if you want to let your friend drive your car? Give them the key, of course. But what if you're on vacation? Or what if your car offers a way to input a code? You'd have to change the code once you got back so your friend didn't take your car for joy rides at night.

This patent aims to make everyone's life easier by providing a token to a friend based on their phone number or some other type of identification method, similar to how apps use tokens to authorize users. But with this method, the car effectively "locks" the user out after using it or after a set amount of time by the owner.


A better way to virtually type

When using a VR headset, there are ways to use a virtual keyboard to input text. But often the inputs don't give any kinesthetic feedback, and typos might occur. This patent imagines a way to fix that by using a language model that can autocorrect or autocomplete a word in real time. When the headset determines that you're not really paying attention to the keyboard, or that your typing slows down or speeds up, or your gaze shifts, it can be a little more aggressive in fixing typos and finishing your sentences.


Playing with friends

Playing games online, like first-person shooters or MMORPGs, can be fun — unless your skill level doesn't match the others. Whether you're too good, or really bad, if everyone's skill doesn't match up, it could leave gamers feeling disengaged. This patent wants to change that by assigning various game modes to players of varying skill levels. If you're a level 1, it will assign you easy tasks to do that help the entire team complete the mission. If you're a level 10, it will assign you hard tasks to do that will also contribute to finishing the mission. Everyone will be able to enjoy playing with friends, no matter the skill levels of the entire team.

Protocol | Enterprise

How Cloudflare thinks it can become ‘the fourth major public cloud’

With its new low-cost R2 cloud storage service, Cloudflare is jumping into direct competition with the AWS service that launched the cloud computing revolution.

Cloudflare will not charge data-egress fees for customers using R2, taking direct aim at the fees AWS charges developers to move data out of its widely popular S3 storage service.

Photo: Martina Albertazzi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Cloudflare is ready to launch a new cloud object storage service that promises to be cheaper than the established alternatives, a step the company believes will catapult it into direct competition with AWS and other cloud providers.

The service will be called R2 — "one less than S3," quipped Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince in an interview with Protocol ahead of Cloudflare's announcement Tuesday morning. Cloudflare will not charge data-egress fees for customers using R2, taking direct aim at the fees AWS charges developers to move data out of its widely popular S3 storage service.

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Tom Krazit

Tom Krazit ( @tomkrazit) is Protocol's enterprise editor, covering cloud computing and enterprise technology out of the Pacific Northwest. He has written and edited stories about the technology industry for almost two decades for publications such as IDG, CNET, paidContent, and GeekWire, and served as executive editor of Gigaom and Structure.

The pandemic won't be over until the economy recovers. While cities, states and regions across the U.S. are grappling with new variants, shifting mask policies and other factors that directly impact businesses large and small, it is nevertheless time for brands and enterprises to jumpstart COVID-19 recovery strategies.

Data will undoubtedly be critical to such strategies, but there is one type of data in particular that is poised to yield greater impact than ever in the COVID-19 Recovery Era: location data.

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Michele Morelli, Foursquare
As SVP of Marketing, Michele is responsible for overseeing the brand strategy, communications, and product and performance marketing of Foursquare’s apps and enterprise products. Prior to joining Foursquare, Michele held several senior leadership positions with wide-ranging responsibilities at AOL, Toluna, Citibank and Yahoo!.

VR pioneer The Void is plotting a comeback

Assets of the location-based VR startup have been acquired by a former investor, who plans a relaunch with key former team members.

The Void's New York outpost closed during the pandemic. Now, the company is planning a comeback under new ownership.

Photo: The Void

Location-based VR pioneer The Void may rise from the ashes next year: A former investor has acquired key assets of the defunct startup and is now looking to relaunch it with key team members, Protocol has learned. The company is said to be actively fundraising, and is getting ready to start hiring additional talent soon.

The Void's patents and trademarks were recently acquired by Hyper Reality Partners, a company headed by former OneWeb CEO Adrian Steckel, who also used to be an investor in and board member of The Void. Hyper Reality Partners is actively fundraising for a relaunch of the VR startup, and is said to have raised as much as $20 million already, according to an industry insider.

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Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

Protocol | Workplace

A new McKinsey study shows that women do more emotional labor at work

The 2021 Women in the Workplace report from McKinsey found that women are far more likely than men to help their teams manage time and work-life balance and provide emotional support.

Senior leaders who identify as women were 60% more likely to provide emotional support to their teams and 26% more likely to help team members navigate work/life challenges, according to the report.

Photo: Luis Alvarez via Getty Images

Over the last year, emotional support, time management skills and work-life balance have become drastically more important and difficult in the workplace — and women leaders were far more likely than men to step in and do that work for their teams, according to the latest iteration of McKinsey and's annual Women in the Workplace report.

Senior leaders who identify as women were 60% more likely to provide emotional support to their teams, 24% more likely to ensure their teams' workload is manageable and 26% more likely to help team members navigate work/life challenges, according to the report. In addition, about one in five women senior leaders spend a substantial amount of time on DEI work that is not central to their job, compared to less than one in 10 male senior leaders.

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Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (Twitter: @ anna_c_kramer, email:, where she writes about labor and workplace issues. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

Amazon needs New World’s launch to be a success

New World arrives Tuesday. Whether it flops could determine the future of Amazon Games.

New World launches on Tuesday, after four delays. It could be Amazon's first big hit.

Image: Amazon

Amazon's New World launches on Tuesday, marking the end of a long and bumpy road to release day for the company's most pivotal video game release to date. There's a lot riding on New World, a massively multiplayer online game in the vein of iconic successes like Blizzard's long-running World of Warcraft and Square Enix's immensely popular Final Fantasy XIV.

If the game succeeds, New World will mark a rare success for a technology company in the gaming space. With the exception of Microsoft, which entered the console game industry nearly two decades ago, tech firms have tried time and again to use their engineering talent and resources to crack the code behind making successful video games. Almost every attempt has failed, but Amazon is the closest to having a hit on its hands. If it flops, we could see Amazon's gaming ambitions go the way of Google's.

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Nick Statt
Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at
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