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Power

Facebook wants you to pay for links on Instagram

Digital T-shirts, real-time ads, Apple headphones and other patents from Big Tech.

Facebook wants you to pay for links on Instagram

At $2 a pop, it seems pretty pricey.

Image: USPTO and Facebook

It has been quite a week, so I'd suggest taking your mind off of things by reading about the wild and wonderful patents that Big Tech was awarded this week. Alphabet wants to suck your blood and inject you at the same time; Amazon wants to turn your living room into a light show; Apple is working on headphones; Facebook wants to finally give us links in Instagram comments (for a price!); and Microsoft wants our T-shirts to tell time. The future is going to be amazing.

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

Generating ads in real time

When a sports team wins a tournament, it only takes a few minutes before you start seeing ads for that team's merchandise, celebrating the win. Those tend to be made in advance with versions made for both teams winning. But what if they could be made in real time, for any event or outcome, like a movie winning an Oscar for best picture? Google is thinking about how templates, fed with live data from events, could be used to construct and sell ads the moment an event happens. Because heaven forbid you have to wait a bit after something happens to start selling against it.

One device to draw blood and inject medicine

This is a level of convenience I never knew I wanted. If you're like me and don't enjoy getting blood drawn or injections, and especially don't like doctor's appointments that require both, then this new concept from Verily might be for you. It's a device with a single needle that can extract blood and inject you in one go, using separate chambers inside the cartridge area for what's going in and what's coming out.

Amazon

Changing smart light colors through music

If you've ever seen Pink Floyd perform, you'll know that having a light show to go with the concert can be pretty neat. Amazon apparently wants to re-create that effect at home. Using information from what you're watching and listening to on your smart TV (or, presumably, your Fire device), a system could send signals to your smart lights to match their colors to what's on the screen. For example, if there are green trees and blue skies onscreen, the lights could change to match those colors in real time, turning your living room into a mini live venue. Who needs to go back outside?

Picking items up when the store is closed

With the world the way it is these days, you've probably done a fair amount of online shopping, either for delivery or pickup outside stores. And there have likely been times where you've left to go pick something up, thinking you had enough time to get there before the store closed, only to get stuck in traffic. Amazon wants to solve this by guessing your ETA based on when you leave. If its systems think you'll arrive after the store closes, it would offer you alternatives for getting your item, such as picking one up at another location that's still open, scheduling a delivery, or just canceling the thing if you really can't be bothered. This could definitely cut down on some wasted gas mileage.

Apple

Apple headphones

Apple is hosting an event Tuesday, and one of the new devices we're expecting to see is a pair of Apple-branded over-the-ear headphones. The company bought Beats back in 2014 and has had its Apple AirPods line since 2016, but it hasn't had wireless headphones of its own. This patent seems to suggest that they're likely very nearly here.

Autodrying gadgets

The Apple Watch has a water-resistant mode that expels any water trapped in the watch when you turn off that mode. Two new patents from Apple this week suggest it's looking at ways to do more than just expel the water: These patents look at ways to heat up recesses in devices, like microphone and speaker holes, as well as surfaces like glass, to keep them as dry as possible in wet environments. It'd be like a tiny, built-in hand dryer, but for the internals of your Apple gadgets.

Facebook

Links in Instagram captions

One of the single most annoying limitations of Instagram is that you can't put links in photo captions. If you're verified, or if you have at least 10,000 followers, you can add links to your Stories, though. There are workarounds for us normals, like writing "link in bio" or using URL shorteners (which I do on my amazing food blog), but none of them is as simple as a link in the caption would be. It seems that Instagram is toying around with adding that feature — for a price. This patent outlines a payments function where when you to put a URL in a caption, a pop-up appears asking if you'd like to pay $2 for the ability to activate the link. That sounds like it could get very costly if you'd want to add links to every post, but this is probably welcome news to Facebook investors.

Microsoft

Electronic yarn

Combining the best of the 21st century AD with the best of the 5th millennium BCE, Microsoft is apparently working on making yarn (which was, you guessed it, first invented thousands of years ago), by combining traditional fibers with electrical ones. The end result of eons of human technological evolution? Putting the time on your T-shirt:



Watching esports in VR

If you've ever tried to watch an esports match where more than one thing is happening at once (like any multiplayer shooting game or strategy games like StarCraft), it can get a little … confusing. One solution Microsoft is looking into is using VR as a way to see the entire world of the game while it's happening. The patent outlines ways to overlay information on the game in real time, as well as live chat functions, which will definitely never be abused by 12-year-olds.

Joining meetings on Xbox

This is a patent about figuring out how to let trusted users join business meetings on the device of their choosing, which is not particularly world-changing. But I do like that one of the examples in the patent is to join using an Xbox. Given we're all stuck at home, it'd be pretty easy to sneak in a few rounds of Fortnite between your team status calls:

Transforming 2021

The future of retail is hiding in an abandoned mall

The warehouse is moving closer to customers' houses as ecommerce eats the world of retail.

Microfulfillment centers could help retailers compete with the largest ecommerce companies.

Photo: Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The American mall has been decimated by the rise in ecommerce. But soon, it may also be their savior — sort of, at least.

Long before the pandemic kept people at home in front of their computers, buying everything they needed to see out lockdown online, malls were on the decline and ecommerce was on the rise.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Sponsored Content

The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

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Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
Power

Google wants to help you get a life

Digital car windows, curved AR glasses, automatic presentations and other patents from Big Tech.

A new patent from Google offers a few suggestions.

Image: USPTO

Another week has come to pass, meaning it's time again for Big Tech patents! You've hopefully been busy reading all the new Manual Series stories that have come out this week and are now looking forward to hearing what comes after what comes next. Google wants to get rid of your double-chin selfie videos and find things for you as you sit bored at home; Apple wants to bring translucent displays to car windows; and Microsoft is exploring how much you can stress out a virtual assistant.

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.

Keep Reading Show less
Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Power

Cord cutting in 2020: Pay TV industry lost 5.5 million subscribers

Subscriber defections slowed toward the end of the year, but there's no end to cord cutting in sight.

The pay TV industry is undergoing a bit of a power shift.

Photo: Nicolas J Leclercq/Unsplash

The five biggest pay TV providers lost a combined 5.5 million subscribers in 2020, narrowly staying below the 5.8 million subscribers the companies collectively lost in 2019. Subscriber losses slowed a bit toward the end of the year, but pandemic-related cutbacks still hit the industry hard — and may have led to hundreds of thousands additional cancellations if not for industry-wide billing relief efforts.

The industry is undergoing a bit of a power shift, with pay TV subscribers switching from traditional operators like Comcast and AT&T to tech companies like Google and Hulu and their respective pay TV services. However, a closer look at pay TV trends suggests that these gains may be temporary, as so-called skinny bundles fall out of favor with consumers once operators are forced to increase their price tags to make up for ever-increasing network licensing costs.

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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.

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