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:

Podcasts

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Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic and founder of WordPress, poses for Protocol at his home in Houston, Texas.
Photo: Arturo Olmos for Protocol

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Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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