Is Apple finally ready for a touchscreen laptop?

The latest patent filings from Big Tech.

Is Apple finally ready for a touchscreen laptop?

Could it be? A touchscreen MacBook?

Image: Edwin PM/Noun Project

Big Tech didn't disappoint this week, giving us tons of patents to sift through: Google wants to help out by making phone calls for me, Amazon imagines a way to help autonomous vehicles get around, Amazon wants to help e-readers not look bad, and could Apple finally be thinking of a touchscreen laptop?

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.

Alphabet

Speech recognition for everyone

Voice assistants and translation services do a pretty good job understanding people with typical speech. But they can sometimes struggle and provide less-accurate results for people who have atypical speech, for example people who have a lisp or a stutter. This patent wants to help in these situations, by scanning both the typical speech and atypical speech. One use case would be when two people are on the phone; the speech processor could transcribe what the person with atypical speech is saying, so that the other person can understand better.

The best patent of them all

I am an adult, and have been for a very long time. But there's nothing that makes me feel more like a whiny baby than having to make a phone call, regardless of whether it's to order a pizza or to my doctor. But this patent aims to help me directly by doing the calling for me.

It imagines a system that can not only call for you, but it can be programmed to not just call on the user's behalf, but also perform actions based on information gathered. Make a reservation? No problem. Call a car? The robot will handle it. Next I just need the robot to decide what food I'm in the mood for, and I'll never have to think for myself again. Bliss!

Amazon

Figuring out the position of an autonomous vehicle

We're getting really close to a world filled with self-driving cars, and we're even closer to a world of autonomous delivery vehicles. But there are still quite a few things that need to be figured out. Like, what if there are no lines on the road for the vehicle to follow? What if it's in a dead zone and the GPS is spotty?

This patent is looking to help in those situations by using images to help determine where the vehicle is. Using installed sensors and cameras, it could take pictures — even 360-degree panoramic shots — of the environment, which could then be matched up with 2D maps of the area. That way the autonomous vehicle can traverse any terrain to get your delivery to your door without problems.

A better digital reading experience

Reading a book on a Kindle is usually fine. You can adjust the font size, the screen brightness, and even read white words on a black background, if that makes your eyes feel better. But what a Kindle doesn't account for is various text configurations. That's because e-books often use layouts that have been predetermined from hard copies of books, and that layout might not work in an e-reader.

This patent examines various ways of flowing in the text so that it looks good. One way to do that is to take into account the display size as well as the formatting that the publisher and designer intended. That way the book can serve up the proper dimensions for the text, so nothing is cut off and the reading experience is a bit easier.

Apple

Using a cursor with your finger

The lack of a touchscreen Mac in Apple's computer lineup has been a hot topic of debate, with some people saying it's a glaring omission and others predicting that Apple will never offer a touchscreen on the Mac.

But could it be? Could Apple finally be thinking about a touchscreen Mac? This patent is all about implementing a cursor when using your finger on a touchscreen. Using a cursor or some sort of pointing icon could help with accuracy, and therefore the experience of using a touchscreen, but because there would potentially be fewer taps, it could also help with battery life. This all sounds great for an iPhone or iPad, but the patent note that this type of technology could be used with other devices, too: "It should also be understood that, in some embodiments, the device is not a portable communications device, but is a desktop computer with a touch-sensitive surface (e.g., a touch screen display and/or a touchpad)." Let the rumors spreading begin!

Typing with your eyes

Speaking of rumors, another one that's been floating around for a while is the inevitable Apple VR headset. And based on a slew of patent filings lately, it seems like it's also on Apple's mind. This patent lays out a way for selecting a text input field using just your eyes. Does that mean that there won't be a need for the handheld joysticks, like those that come with the Oculus Quest?

Facebook

Headset that takes astigmatism into account

Facebook also has VR on its mind, with this patent that wants to help people who have astigmatism. By changing the voltage provided to a crystal lens, it can bend in a way that produces a clear image for the wearer, no matter how bad their vision is. That's great news for people like me who wear glasses and can't quite seem to get a comfy fit when putting on a VR headset.

Microsoft

Easy email

Email platforms usually offer a limited number of options when it comes to displaying an email. You can view it in a thread or read it one by one; you can enable a preview pane to see what the message says without actually opening it.

This patent asks: Why not do it all? By incorporating both a list and a reading pane in one view, you could see several emails in the list at once. And if they're synchronized so that actions in the list affect what's happening in the reading pane, Microsoft thinks it can provide a more unified, easier way to read email.

Fintech

Circle’s CEO: This is not the time to ‘go crazy’

Jeremy Allaire is leading the stablecoin powerhouse in a time of heightened regulation.

“It’s a complex environment. So every CEO and every board has to be a little bit cautious, because there’s a lot of uncertainty,” Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire told Protocol at Converge22.

Photo: Circle

Sitting solo on a San Francisco stage, Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire asked tennis superstar Serena Williams what it’s like to face “unrelenting skepticism.”

“What do you do when someone says you can’t do this?” Allaire asked the athlete turned VC, who was beaming into Circle’s Converge22 convention by video.

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Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

Sponsored Content

Great products are built on strong patents

Experts say robust intellectual property protection is essential to ensure the long-term R&D required to innovate and maintain America's technology leadership.

Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.

From 5G to artificial intelligence, IP protection offers a powerful incentive for researchers to create ground-breaking products, and governmental leaders say its protection is an essential part of maintaining US technology leadership. To quote Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo: "intellectual property protection is vital for American innovation and entrepreneurship.”

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James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.
Enterprise

Is Salesforce still a growth company? Investors are skeptical

Salesforce is betting that customer data platform Genie and new Slack features can push the company to $50 billion in revenue by 2026. But investors are skeptical about the company’s ability to deliver.

Photo: Marlena Sloss/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Salesforce has long been enterprise tech’s golden child. The company said everything customers wanted to hear and did everything investors wanted to see: It produced robust, consistent growth from groundbreaking products combined with an aggressive M&A strategy and a cherished culture, all operating under the helm of a bombastic, but respected, CEO and team of well-coiffed executives.

Dreamforce is the embodiment of that success. Every year, alongside frustrating San Francisco residents, the over-the-top celebration serves as a battle cry to the enterprise software industry, reminding everyone that Marc Benioff’s mighty fiefdom is poised to expand even deeper into your corporate IT stack.

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Joe Williams

Joe Williams is a writer-at-large at Protocol. He previously covered enterprise software for Protocol, Bloomberg and Business Insider. Joe can be reached at JoeWilliams@Protocol.com. To share information confidentially, he can also be contacted on a non-work device via Signal (+1-309-265-6120) or JPW53189@protonmail.com.

Policy

The US and EU are splitting on tech policy. That’s putting the web at risk.

A conversation with Cédric O, the former French minister of state for digital.

“With the difficulty of the U.S. in finding political agreement or political basis to legislate more, we are facing a risk of decoupling in the long term between the EU and the U.S.”

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Cédric O, France’s former minister of state for digital, has been an advocate of Europe’s approach to tech and at the forefront of the continent’s relations with U.S. giants. Protocol caught up with O last week at a conference in New York focusing on social media’s negative effects on society and the possibilities of blockchain-based protocols for alternative networks.

O said watching the U.S. lag in tech policy — even as some states pass their own measures and federal bills gain momentum — has made him worry about the EU and U.S. decoupling. While not as drastic as a disentangling of economic fortunes between the West and China, such a divergence, as O describes it, could still make it functionally impossible for companies to serve users on both sides of the Atlantic with the same product.

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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.

A 'Soho house for techies': VCs place a bet on community

Contrary is the latest venture firm to experiment with building community spaces instead of offices.

Contrary NYC is meant to re-create being part of a members-only club where engineers and entrepreneurs can hang out together, have a space to work, and host events for people in tech.

Photo: Courtesy of Contrary

In the pre-pandemic times, Contrary’s network of venture scouts, founders, and top technologists reflected the magnetic pull Silicon Valley had on the tech industry. About 80% were based in the Bay Area, with a smattering living elsewhere. Today, when Contrary asked where people in its network were living, the split had changed with 40% in the Bay Area and another 40% living in or planning to move to New York.

It’s totally bifurcated now, said Contrary’s founder Eric Tarczynski.

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Biz Carson

Biz Carson ( @bizcarson) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol, covering Silicon Valley with a focus on startups and venture capital. Previously, she reported for Forbes and was co-editor of Forbes Next Billion-Dollar Startups list. Before that, she worked for Business Insider, Gigaom, and Wired and started her career as a newspaper designer for Gannett.

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