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.

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Soon you might buy digital sneakers to wear on your digital date in a digital world.

Combined with the hype around digital goods and cryptocurrency, companies and futurists are starting to imagine what shopping in the metaverse might look like.

Photo illustration: Mark Abramson/Bloomberg via Getty Images; The Fabricant; Protocol

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Before the internet, the mall was the spot for watching movies, hanging out, listening to music, finding love — and an embodiment of all-American consumerism. "The shopping center was Amazon, it was Facebook, it was Tinder, it was Spotify, it was Netflix," said retail futurist Doug Stephens. "It was the gathering point in the community."

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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.

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In fact, according to Gartner, by 2025, 70% of new applications developed by enterprises will use low-code or no-code technologies and, by 2023, there will be at least four times as many active citizen developers as professional developers at large enterprises. We're on the cusp of a big shift in how businesses operate and how organization wide innovation happens.

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Andrew Ofstad
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Can we bring malls into the metaverse?

Soon you might buy digital sneakers to wear on your digital date in a digital world.

Combined with the hype around digital goods and cryptocurrency, companies and futurists are starting to imagine what shopping in the metaverse might look like.

Photo illustration: Mark Abramson/Bloomberg via Getty Images; The Fabricant; Protocol

Click banner image for more Shopping Week coverage

Before the internet, the mall was the spot for watching movies, hanging out, listening to music, finding love — and an embodiment of all-American consumerism. "The shopping center was Amazon, it was Facebook, it was Tinder, it was Spotify, it was Netflix," said retail futurist Doug Stephens. "It was the gathering point in the community."

Keep Reading Show less
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.

It’s still too hard to give crypto this holiday

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If only giving bitcoin were this simple.

Photo illustration: gpointstudio/Getty Images Plus; Protocol

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Crypto took huge steps toward the mainstream this year. Bitcoin soared in value, Coinbase went public and VCs poured even more money into the industry. In case consumers didn't get the message, they'll surely notice when the Staples Center turns into Crypto.com Arena next month and FTX airs its first Super Bowl ad in February.

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It’s time to rethink Black Friday

The pandemic didn't end Black Friday, but it'll never look the same again.

We can expect Black Friday to stick around but lose relevance as retailers effectively dilute its meaning and purpose.

Illustration: Christopher T. Fong/Protocol

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"I'm selling meditation, so I shouldn't be stressed," said Charlie Rousset, the co-founder of sleep and relaxation gadget-maker Morphée. But even deep breathing can't help Rousset feel less on edge this Black Friday.

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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.

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