People

Apple wants to help me and my fat fingers

The funnest (and funniest) patent applications of the week!

iPhone

Sorry, Steve Jobs, my fingers aren't built for this.

Image: Protocol

Happy Fourth of July to all who celebrate. I'm celebrating by eating some hot dogs, going swimming and rounding up some of the funnest (and funniest) patent applications of the week.

Google wants to help make credit card fraud a bit easier to spot, Amazon is worried about people spilling drinks on the Echo, Apple wants to help me not make so many typos, Facebook is looking out for my Beat Saber sessions and Microsoft wants to make parental controls a little more intuitive.

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

Easier financial transactions

Fraudulent transactions on a credit card are a pain. It often takes the credit card provider time to gather all the information and verify that the chargers were in fact fraudulent. That's because all of that info — balances, charges, location of charges — is kept in various places, and finding the information takes a lot of resources. This patent imagines a platform where all of the information is stored in one place: an electronic ledger that acts as a single source of truth. It could be used to make transactions at merchants, send money to friends and even sign up for new accounts. That way, the next time something is amiss, the institution doesn't have to look at various forms of data to get your financial situation back on track.

Amazon

Prettier (and more durable) portable speakers

I have so many smart devices in my home, I can get anything done from the couch. But having that many gadgets can be an eyesore (I mean, I don't think it's ever an eyesore, but someone else could, I imagine). This patent takes into account the aesthetics and durability of a smart assistant. Lights and buttons and microphones and cords aren't just unsightly, but they can get messed up and ruin the whole machine if a drink is spilled nearby. It describes ways in which to build the assistants to ensure that they're sturdy, last a long time and in some cases, even keep costs down.

Apple

Phone interface for fat fingers like mine

Steve Jobs hated big phones. In the iPhone 4 era (remember antennagate?), he wasn't shy about tearing big phones apart, calling some "Hummers," saying that "You can't get your hand around it," in reference to larger form factors, and even predicting that "No one's going to buy that" big phone. (For the record, he was wrong; larger phones have been the standard for many years. A year after his death, even Apple released the taller iPhone 5 and the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus a year later.)

But even on a bigger display, my fat fingers still can't type words correctly on the first try, and I certainly have a hard time scrolling through documents and emails. This patent imagines an interface that adapts to what's happening on the screen. For example, if there are a ton of apps on the screen, a menu button would come in handy to help find what you're looking for. Or the app icons could shrink to fit more on the screen and negate the need for scrolling.

Facebook

Muffling VR headset sounds

The silliest part about a VR headset is that unless you have headphones in, everyone in the room can hear what song you're playing Beat Saber to. Or they can hear a conversation you might be having. This patent wants to help mitigate sound leaking from the headset without the use of headphones. It imagines various privacy levels that the user can set that then lay an audio filter over the sound. That way, I can do the BTS Beat Saber 15 times in a row and nobody would even notice.

A yarn strap

There's really not much to say about this one, other than part of the patent application just describes what a yarn strap might be used for … such as tying two things together. But basically it's describing a method and apparatus in which to finish the ends of the strap, so that they don't fray. Whew, I was really worried about frayed straps, but I'm glad someone is looking into it.

Microsoft

Parental controls for the future

Parental controls are pretty simple: I set a time limit for the device itself or certain apps, or block certain apps from being accessed at all. But as devices change, and kids' habits change, some parental controls might feel too rigid or constrained, or might not work at all.

This patent describes a way to set parental controls that use context clues as well as hard and fast rules. For example, in the future, I might allow my kid to use Instagram (not now, he's almost 3), but not while he's driving a car. Or the system might keep track of homework hours and then automatically allocate bonus YouTube time based on settings.

Good job, Jill. Bonus YouTube time for you.Image: UPTO

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