Apple wants to air-condition your VR headset

Google wants to make storytime more fun, Microsoft hopes you never miss a message again, and more patents from Big Tech.

Apple wants to air-condition your VR headset

Apple wants to put a fan in your VR headset. (Not this fan.)

Photo: Immo Wegmann/Unsplash

Hello! Welcome back to our weekly look at patent filings from Big Tech. I'm looking forward to sharing the weirdest (and coolest) patents companies have filed in the past week. But just 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.

This week: Google wants to make storytime more engaging, Amazon hopes to make shopping customizable, Apple wants to keep your head cool, Facebook doesn't want you to hurt yourself and Microsoft wants to make sure you never miss a text.


Storytime fun

I read aloud to my son every night before bed, and I try my best to provide silly voice effects ("Vroom!" "Crash!") when applicable. What would be even better: real effects that accompanied my silly ones. This patent imagines exactly that, with a nearby Nest speaker as the provider of the sound effects, based on a trigger word. I admit that I'd miss yelling "ROAR!" but maybe the speaker can just act as a backup.


Amazon Go+?

Listen. I love Amazon Go stores. My least favorite thing in the world is interacting with strangers, and Amazon Go allows me to get what I need with very minimal interaction. The one problem with these stores is that you can only buy what's in stock. This patent imagines a retail store with automated checkout, but you can buy food or drinks that are made to order, as well as prepackaged items. I guess that means I'd have to talk to someone when I order, but at least I can quickly run away without needing to pull out my wallet.

This VR air conditioner looks very stylish and comfortable.Image: USPTO


AC for a VR headset

The worst part about using a VR headset: The band that presses up against the forehead is a literal sponge for sweat. This patent addresses that concern by describing a little cooling unit that circulates air in the headset to keep you cool, and the deflector specifically points the air at your face. That way you can play Beat Saber for hours without making the headset all gross.


Collision avoidance in VR

I have an Oculus Quest 2, which is super fun to play games with and is very impressive. My one gripe, though, is that before I start playing, I have to outline my physical space with the controller, so that it can warn me if I'm about to bump into something. Since I'm bouncing around, it's inevitable that my arm pops into the danger zone, and a red grid shows up in my vision, warning me that I'm too close to a table or chair or dog.

This patent imagines incorporating real-world objects as objects that relate more specifically to the game. So rather than looking at a couch, when you put the headset on, you're looking at a treasure chest. And the chair is now a tree. That way you can stay in the game without hurting yourself, or the dog.


Never miss a message again

Sending a text message is easy and great, until you go through a tunnel or enter a building that has no service. If you're expecting a text, it might not come through while you're in there. And if it's a really long tunnel, it might not come through at all. This patent wants to help in these situations by actually storing the notification and sending it once the phone is back on the network. This alleviates the need for your friend to keep trying to send the message, and instead gives it to you when you're finally out of the tunnel.

Hirsh Chitkara
Hirsh Chitkara (@ChitkaraHirsh) is a researcher at Protocol, based out of New York City. Before joining Protocol, he worked for Business Insider Intelligence, where he wrote about Big Tech, telecoms, workplace privacy, smart cities, and geopolitics. He also worked on the Strategy & Analytics team at the Cleveland Indians.

The way we work has fundamentally changed. COVID-19 upended business dealings and office work processes, putting into hyperdrive a move towards digital collaboration platforms that allow teams to streamline processes and communicate from anywhere. According to the International Data Corporation, the revenue for worldwide collaboration applications increased 32.9 percent from 2019 to 2020, reaching $22.6 billion; it's expected to become a $50.7 billion industry by 2025.

"While consumers and early adopter businesses had widely embraced collaborative applications prior to the pandemic, the market saw five years' worth of new users in the first six months of 2020," said Wayne Kurtzman, research director of social and collaboration at IDC. "This has cemented collaboration, at least to some extent, for every business, large and small."

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Kate Silver

Kate Silver is an award-winning reporter and editor with 15-plus years of journalism experience. Based in Chicago, she specializes in feature and business reporting. Kate's reporting has appeared in the Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Atlantic's CityLab, Atlas Obscura, The Telegraph and many other outlets.

Hirsh Chitkara
Hirsh Chitkara (@ChitkaraHirsh) is a researcher at Protocol, based out of New York City. Before joining Protocol, he worked for Business Insider Intelligence, where he wrote about Big Tech, telecoms, workplace privacy, smart cities, and geopolitics. He also worked on the Strategy & Analytics team at the Cleveland Indians.

Why Coda thinks documents are the internet's next big platform

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Not much has changed about documents since the days of Microsoft Word 1.0. But innovation is picking up again.

Image: Microsoft

The way Shishir Mehrotra sees it, digital documents haven't really changed in 50 years. Since the days of WordStar, Harvard Graphics and VisiCalc, the basic idea of what makes up a document, presentation and spreadsheet haven't really changed.

Now, thanks to companies like Coda — where Mehrotra is founder and CEO — along with Notion, Quip and others, that's starting to change. These companies are building tools that can do multiple things in a single space, that are designed both for creating and for sharing, and that turn documents from "a piece of paper on a screen" into something much more powerful. And to hear Mehrotra tell it, documents are headed toward a future that looks more like an operating system than a Word file.

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editorial director. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

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Given Apple's recent changes to third-party tracking technology and Google's looming changes, the customer data platform provider is poised to play a central role in Twilio's product vision moving forward.

The launch of Engage points to the critical role Segment will play in Twilio's future.

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

This week at Twilio's annual conference, it's Segment, the company it acquired last year for $3.2 billion, that's poised to take center stage.

Signal kicks off on Wednesday. Alongside Michelle Obama, one of the highlights of the two-day event is bound to be Twilio Engage, a new product that showcases the combined capabilities of the cloud communications provider and Segment, the customer data platform vendor that Twilio bought last November.

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Joe Williams

Joe Williams is a senior reporter at Protocol covering enterprise software, including industry giants like Salesforce, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle. He previously covered emerging technology for Business Insider. Joe can be reached at JWilliams@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.

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