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Patents Technology (Apple) Apple

Apple Patents Alternative To NFC 171

Posted by Soulskill
from the bet-it'll-have-a-cooler-name dept.
another random user sends word that a set of newly-granted Apple patents published by the USPTO includes an alternative to the near field communication (NFC) technology that has begun to pop up in mobile devices. From the article: "Apple has received a Granted Patent relating to techniques for triggering a process within a portable electronic device that identifies itself for purposes of establishing communications with another device that is in proximity. At the moment, NFC is the technology that's getting all of the attention lately in respect to making it easier for two mobile devices to share information. While Apple is likewise doing research with NFC, they're also working with an alternate methodology for which they've now gained a patent for. In accordance with Apple's newly granted patent, a method for network device discovery monitors a compass output in a portable electronic device. As the portable device and an external device come closer to each other, a magnetic field signature is computed based on the monitored compass output. A determination is then made as to whether the computed signature could be associated with or implies that a previously defined type of electronic device (with which a network device discovery process can be conducted) is in close proximity. In other words, as the two devices come closer to each other, their respective magnetic characteristics cause the compass output to change in a way that implies that a network device discovery process should be initiated between the two devices."
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Apple Patents Alternative To NFC

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  • by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @06:14PM (#41687029) Homepage Journal
    So will Apple try to licence this technology to other mobile manufacturers, or will it forever remain on the shelf, never attaining sufficient popularity for POS vendors to support it?
    • by FyRE666 (263011) * on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @06:18PM (#41687093) Homepage

      This is a technology for sharing that's patented so it can't be... shared... er...

      • The one remaining theory is that Apple expects their devices to surpass all others, I suppose.
        • And only people with Apple products will be able to buy food.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by lxs (131946)

            If my experience is anything to go by, it will be the exact opposite. People with Android and other phones will have no problems but iphone users will be standing there poking at their tiny screen, wondering why their superior machine won't play with non-Apple world. Apparently sending a picture to a photo kiosk (they all seem to run on XP embedded) via bluetooth is beyond its capabilities.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Tough Love (215404)

      I put this in the same category as Apple refusing to adopt other standards, such as USB power. Reinforcing its reputation as an operation that doesn't play well with standards.

      • by msauve (701917) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @06:55PM (#41687419)
        USB power has a fundamental limitation - micro-USB connectors are only rated for 1.7 A. The USB charging spec maxes out at 1.5 A. That's right at the edge for today's phones and battery technology. Lithium batteries exist which can be charged at a 1C rate, and a 1.5 Ah battery is about what most smartphones have. It's more limiting for tablets, which have batteries which can charge faster than USB can allow.
        • by benlwilson (983210) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @07:51PM (#41687899)

          USB3 has charging standards which allow for much more power.
          I don't think any manufactures have added support for it yet though.

          Profile 1 - 5V @ 2A
          Profile 2 - 5V @ 2A or 12V@1.5A
          Profile 3 - 5V @ 2A or 12V@3A
          Profile 4 - 20V@3A
          Profile 5 - 12V or 20V at 5A (100W).

          I believe the idea around profile 5 is so laptops can drop the custom power connector and use a USB3 port instead.
          It makes things interesting if all laptop USB ports support all power profiles. You could charge one laptop from another and even make a figurative 'energy black hole' by looping the charge back again with another cable.

          • by morgauxo (974071)
            Profile 5 can be either 12 or 20? And is this somehow negotiated outside of negotiating which profile to use or is it just a crapshoot, one manufacturer chooses to implement 12 while another chooses 20? Why do standards committees always seem to pull this crap? Just make it either 12 or 20 and make that the only valid profile 5 standard! Seeing as Profiles 4 maxes out at 60W and 12V @ 5A is also 60W I would go with the 20V option for profile 5.
        • USB power has a fundamental limitation...

          Oh really. Then why doesn't it limit my quad core Nexus 7? Are you saying that Apple's power design is bad?

          • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

            by BasilBrush (643681)

            Well, for one thing it's only 7 inch (1280Ã--800) rather than the 9.7 inch (2048Ã--1536) of an iPad 3.

            • by Tough Love (215404) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @10:34PM (#41688995)

              Well, for one thing it's only 7 inch (1280Ã--800) rather than the 9.7 inch (2048Ã--1536) of an iPad 3.

              iPad 3 is a power sucking monstrosity. The only reason Apple quadrupled the resolution was because of the scatterbrained design decision to let applications depend on fixed resolution. Exacerbated by the idiotic lack of hinting in Apple's font engine, so higher resolution is needed just to get equivalently sharp characters that Android gets with proper hinting. Oh, and the fixed resolution idiocy came back to bite Apple again with the iPhone 5 - forcing the funny looking too-long-and-skinny form factor just to keep the 640 dot display width. And letterboxing! Who was asleep at the wheel in the Apple's engineering department anyway? Well I'm not complaining of course. Strategy like this is the best and fastest way to transform Apple from a growth stock to a shrink stock. Which couldn't happen to a nicer company.

              • by morgauxo (974071)
                Um, yeah.. because Apple's customers really care about what they are getting more than that it says Apple on it. They just now got turn by turn directions FCOL... I don't think Apple can do any wrong by their customers and their stock is not going down for a very very long time.
            • Even if we assume USB is incapable of powering stuff that needs more than 1.5A (plenty of ways around that), they could still use microUSB plus some charging solution on the iPad, to complement, not replace USB charging.

              Any physical limitation of USB is also present in the dock connector cable or lightning cable and connector. Apple's connectors aren't magical, just carrying more current than most people like to cram through them.

          • by Lumpy (12016)

            "Oh really. Then why doesn't it limit my quad core Nexus 7? Are you saying that Apple's power design is bad?"

            you are charging your Quad Core nexus 7 at 2 amps? Wierd, because mine doesnt. Where did you get a special nexus 7 that nobody else got?

        • by AmiMoJo (196126)

          Samsung's Micro USB connector on the GS3 has extra pins which, among other things, allow it to exceed the 1.8A maximum current on the standard connector. It is still fully compatible with ordinary cables, you just need a special Samsung one to charge at over 1.5A.

          That is what Apple should have done. Standards compatible connector but with extra pins to support the extra functions they need.

          • by msauve (701917)
            If it has extra pins, it is by definition NOT a Micro-USB connector.
            • by cduffy (652)

              If it has extra pins, it is by definition NOT a Micro-USB connector.

              Which is why the parent said "standards compatible", as opposed to "standards compliant". Read carefully much?

              • by msauve (701917)
                He was responding to a post which was clearly discussing USB standards. Additionally, requiring a proprietary cable to plug into a proprietary connector to get around USB charging limitations adds nothing to an argument for standardizing on USB charging.

                You may read, but you clearly lack comprehension.
                • by cduffy (652)

                  He was responding to a post which was clearly discussing USB standards. Additionally, requiring a proprietary cable to plug into a proprietary connector to get around USB charging limitations adds nothing to an argument for standardizing on USB charging.

                  I quite disagree. Standardizing on USB compatibility as a lowest common denominator is a perfectly reasonable stopgap until the as-yet unreleased version of the standard makes having a stopgap unnecessary. Speaking as an end user, I'd far rather be able to c

      • I put this in the same category as Apple refusing to adopt other standards, such as USB power. Reinforcing its reputation as an operation that doesn't play well with standards.

        And some Apple spinmod just reinforced Apple's reputation for not playing well with people.

    • by alen (225700) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @06:21PM (#41687123)

      Maybe NFC is the Betamax

      Major League Baseball said that 12% of post season tickets have been used digitally via the new passbook app on iOS 6

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by stephanruby (542433)

        Maybe NFC is the Betamax
        Major League Baseball said that 12% of post season tickets have been used digitally via the new passbook app on iOS 6

        You should qualify that percentage. It's only 12% of the single game post season tickets that were sold online, not 12% of all their single game post season tickets. [thenextweb.com]

        Also, that percentage doesn't take into account the iPhone users that bought the tickets but got lost on the way there, nor the iPhone users that bought the tickets that were just waved in by staff (or had to reprint their ticket on actual paper at the park itself) because the barcode couldn't be scanned in because of the glare on their screen,

      • by vux984 (928602)

        Maybe NFC is the Betamax

        No betamax was the technology only one company was allowed to make (sony), while everyone else in the industry made VHS.

        What ever apple has is the isolated single manufacture tech. NFC is relatively ubiquitous and widely available.

        So from this we can conclude the winning technology will be....

        which ever one gets adopted by porn.

        • by azalin (67640)
          My near field communications in the mentioned interpersonal interaction does usually not involve smartphones. On the other hand interpersonal interaction does not qualify as pron for those directly involved. So your point might be valid.
        • BetaMax was Sony, VHS was a consortium including Sony ...

          When BetaMax was shelved VHS gained almost all of the innovation of BetaMax and so became almost the best of both worlds ...

          SmartPhones are rapidly becoming Apple vs non-Apple ... and anything Apple patents will never appear in any other phone (or often any phone)

          • A lot of stuff Apple patents is obvious or just absurd.

            Using the compass to measure disturbances in the magnetic field? This is squarely in "doing things differently to make them incompatible" territory. So many things make this stupidly complicated when compared to NFC. This is like identifying the person who is approaching you by their smell, and if they want to tell you something, they'll release a certain smell.

      • by AmiMoJo (196126)

        NFC is already widely accepted in many parts of the world and a cross-device standard available in everything from smart cards to phones, so it isn't going anywhere.

        Apple's system seems to be much, much lower data rate at best. To be honest it seems more like a gimmick designed to allow users to do the physical action of bringing phones together like their NFC enabled friends can, but doesn't actually have the same functionality or data transfer capability.

      • NFC technology and PassBooks' technology are orthogonal to each other.

        In other words, NFC can work with, or without, Apple's PassBook, and Apple's PassBook can work with, or without, NFC. And no, you don't even need to take my word for it, you can just take Apples' words instead.

        Apple has recently won patents for using NFC on an iPhone [bgr.com] to control home appliances, using NFC to control iWallet [9to5mac.com] transactions with parental controls, and using NFC for checking-in with an airline [macrumors.com] (at the time, it called it iTravel

    • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @07:21PM (#41687681)

      "So will Apple try to licence this technology to other mobile manufacturers, or will it forever remain on the shelf, never attaining sufficient popularity for POS vendors to support it?"

      Who cares? I'm not trying to troll here, but the fact is that NFC was largely busted almost before it came off the shelf (researchers able to covertly read confidential info from mobile NFC devices from several feet away).

      Unless technology changes significantly and soon, making financial transactions via radio is just plain a bad idea. You want to exchange E-cards? Fine. You can already do that via infrared or wifi or bluetooth. You don't need NFC (or a similar device or protocol) to do it.

      • NFC strikes me as a dumb idea, too. The bastard child of RFID and bluetooth. Apple will patent it's own alternative then foist it off on the fanbois to drool over. Neither will become the standard and apple's garden will remain solidly walled.

        The only way NFC could become truly useful would be for you to surrender your last vestiges of privacy and control to your phone. Who really wants to convert to e-currency with all the tracking that implies?

        • NFC strikes me as a dumb idea, too. The bastard child of RFID and bluetooth. Apple will patent it's own alternative then foist it off on the fanbois to drool over. Neither will become the standard and apple's garden will remain solidly walled.

          The only way NFC could become truly useful would be for you to surrender your last vestiges of privacy and control to your phone. Who really wants to convert to e-currency with all the tracking that implies?

          NFC's more fundamental problem though is adoption, which is the same problem with this Apple standard. The proposed use cases for NFC are very broad - that is, it doesn't remove any requirements from vendors and end-point users it simply adds new ones. Just look at VISA and Mastercard trying to push those PayWave type systems - and they're the dominant global players in this market.

        • by Lumpy (12016)

          It's a neat idea it just doesnt work.. at least for the payment systems. every time over the past 30 times I have tried it, it takes 50X longer to pay at the register with NFC than whipping out the credit card and swiping. It has to have a constant data connection to the Wallet servers during the transaction, and 99% of all stores have a Cellphone blocking design of being made with all metal roofs and siding.

          I've uninstalled Google Wallet because it's a complete failure. If it cant work without a liv

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by spire3661 (1038968)
            DOES NOT require a data connection during transaction. I have successfully purchased stuff in a store using Google wallet on my Nexus 7 with no data connection of any kind (other then the NFC link)
            • by Lumpy (12016)

              The one on the nexus phone does not work that way.

              • The point still stands that NFC does not require a data connection to complete a transaction. Im sure if you put your phone on airplane mode, the NFC would work just fine.
        • The bastard child of RFID and bluetooth.

          Not really. It's actually a well-considered bit of technology. Go read up on how it works - you may be impressed.

          Who really wants to convert to e-currency with all the tracking that implies?

          Everybody who uses credit and debit cards? NFC has the potential to be those, but much more secure. Yes, the current implementation of Google Wallet is a turkey, but that's a software problem.

          Replacing cash is a separate issue.

      • Unless I'm missing something, don't we already have this widely deployed and used on credit cards? Nearly every debit and credit card in the UK issued now have contactless NFC in them, and lots of places take them. Isn't NFC-on-phone essentially the same thing?

        • Yes. But don't tell the Americans, they prefer to dream up excuses why it probably wouldn't work, than look to other more innovative countries where the concept has been implemented successfully (hello socialised medicine, weapon regulation etc etc). Hong Kong has had the NFC-type Octopus Card in mainstream use for 15 years.
        • Nearly every debit and credit card in the UK issued now have contactless NFC in them, and lots of places take them

          I'll dispute that one. Of all the credit/debit cards in my wallet, just one of them (a Barclays debit card) has a contactless smartcard in it... and I've not once seen anywhere that will accept NFC payment.

          • Possibly depends where you are, in central London probably about half the places I buy lunch from, and all the black cabs, take it. Point is, it's distributed enough to prove that it does work.

        • by jeffmeden (135043)

          Unless I'm missing something, don't we already have this widely deployed and used on credit cards? Nearly every debit and credit card in the UK issued now have contactless NFC in them, and lots of places take them. Isn't NFC-on-phone essentially the same thing?

          The idea behind Wallet is that it does the same thing (those cards and readers are all over the US, too, btw) but give you more control over the process. Say you have a wallet with 5 payment cards in it; you still have to pick out the ONE you want to pay with, remove it from your wallet, swipe it over the reader, and then continue with the purchase. Not really a "killer feature" when you can just as easily swipe it on the mag track to accomplish the same exact thing with the same level of effort. So, ent

      • Unless technology changes significantly and soon, making financial transactions via radio is just plain a bad idea.

        I used to live in Hong Kong. The Octopus card is a contactless payment system which is the de facto payment standard for small payments for the 95% of the country. Here in Australia we've got contactless MasterCards so I can buy anything up to $100 by swiping my card. No pin, no signature, just scan swipe and keep walking. NFC will replace the need for a card, and since the only thing in my wallet nowadays is credit cards, cash, ID and photo of the family, that can all be done on an NFC phone. Once all reta

        • by jeffmeden (135043)

          Here in Australia we've got contactless MasterCards so I can buy anything up to $100 by swiping my card. No pin, no signature, just scan swipe and keep walking.

          How do they handle authentication? Say your card is lost or stolen, is the onus on you to report it for deactivation before someone can use it to empty your account? Here in the US there is a mild amount of verification but the money lost due to fraudulent use is HUGE.

          • No authentication apart from needing to have the physical card to make the transaction, a stolen card could be used effortlessly by anyone. The bank covers any losses from theft as long as I report a lost card within a reasonable time frame, I can only assume they make so much in other fees that they can absorb the costs.
      • by AmiMoJo (196126)

        I'm not trying to troll here, but the fact is that NFC was largely busted almost before it came off the shelf

        NFC itself is fine, all the published attacks have been against the infrastructure that makes use of it. For example hacks that allow you to travel for free on public transport have targeted the stored value smartcards that just happen to use NFC, and would have been just as valid if they had been swipe or chip cards. Similarly attacks against NFC enabled phones have used flaws in the phone's handling of received data rather than anything inherent to NFC.

        When done properly NFC works well. In Japan NFC is a

  • I guess I can not carry two devices on me any more.
    • by gnoshi (314933) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @06:23PM (#41687155)

      You can still carry two phones, but now that they can talk to each other you'll be the third wheel - especially since they have so much in common. No longer will you rely on other people in the restaurant whispering between themselves about 'the guy playing with his phone': these phones will be able to do that whispering to each other! Progress!

      • Just be sure to treat them right, or else they might start planning a robot apocalypse.

        On a related note, I feel we should not use phones to control deadly military androids.

        • Hasn't xkcd taught us that phones starting the robot apocalypse are not threat at all. Trains too, they can't hurt us. (Although it may have been smbc who taught us that one.)

          • That's exactly my point, they can if they're allowed to control lethal military androids! *Insert Android running Android pun here*

  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @06:16PM (#41687059)

    Apple probably will have a dating service app bundled in . . .

    In other words, as the two devices come closer to each other, their respective magnetic characteristics cause the compass output to change in a way that implies that a network device discovery process should be initiated between the two devices.

    Network device discovery process, indeed.

    • RIP, Bonjour, and Hall Effect. Stir. Patent.

    • by siddesu (698447)
      As far as I can infer from the summary, they are computing a hash of the readings of the compass sensor and pasting over them a Tasker task that switches bluetooth on and off. Patent-worthy? The part that computes the hash -- maybe, but it is hard to believe.
    • "Apple probably will have a dating service app bundled in . . ."

      There has been a device on the market, from Japan, for some years now. I don't remember what it's called. You can code in your personal tastes... perhaps you have particular dating preferences, say tall brunettes for example. Or even a fetish. When the device detects someone with similar coded characteristics or preferences, the devices beep and guide the people to each other.

      I see no reason a similar app could not be developed for smart phones.

      • by lxs (131946)

        The OKCupid app does alert you when a possible match is nearby. There is also Grindr, but that one may be a disappointment if you're not a gay man.

  • subject says it all
    • by tooyoung (853621)
      Does it sound like an NFC rip off to you because you are under the impression that NFC works in the way described by the Apple patent?
  • Ammo for the lawyers (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ThunderBird89 (1293256) <zalanmeggyesi AT yahoo DOT com> on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @06:21PM (#41687135)

    I can give the Samsung (or any other party's) lawyers some ammo: prior art [hackaday.com]. A low-cost data interface using the magnetometer to extract data from a variable magnetic field. The granted patent covers this process almost verbatim, more than one and a half years after its first (published) development.

    • This patent was applied for in 2009. I'm assuming Apple's engineers were working on the tech for some time prior to the patent being filed. The article you linked to is from 2011. So, in this case, it's not prior art.

      • by Compaqt (1758360)

        Oh, was that the legal theory Apple was using in the Samsung case?

        By the way, the US works under first to file now.

    • by Anubis IV (1279820) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @06:47PM (#41687347)

      I believe you missed something important.

      Definition: prior
      adj. Existing or coming before in time, order, or importance.

      File date for Apple's patent: Q4 2009
      Your "prior" art: May 2011

      Now, which one was the prior one again?

      All of that said, it wouldn't surprise me if someone else did beat them to it. It just isn't the person you linked.

    • by victim (30647)

      How on earth does a May 2011 hackaday come a year and a half before an October 2009 patent filing?

      Patents: All of the words in the laws are important.

    • Except the patent isn't the same. There's no data being relayed over the magnetic field. Apple is just using the magnetic field to detect the presence of another device, not actually send any data stream. They use another protocol (likely in practice to be Bluetooth) to do the subsequent matchmaking and data transmission.

      Apple's process actually avoids stepping on this patent at all by not using the magnetometer for data transmission.

  • Isn't this how speed cameras work?
    Can moves over coil in road, detects change in magnetic field. Camera takes picture of car, starts the process of identifying car that drove over the coil. There just happens to be two of these coils to detect the speed of the vehicle and the "device discovery process" is signaling a camera to take a picture for someone to look at the number plate.
  • by John Pfeiffer (454131) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @06:32PM (#41687217) Homepage

    And so Apple makes their products incompatible with the rest of the universe in yet one more way! It's not easy being an Apple customer, is it?

    • by ThunderBird89 (1293256) <zalanmeggyesi AT yahoo DOT com> on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @06:35PM (#41687243)

      Actually, this makes them infinitely compatible, since the iPhones rely on the magnetic signature of other devices to recognize them, possibly even without interaction from those devices. Passive recognition, in essence.

      • Good luck using a phone's magnotemeter to identify something that wasn't designed to be unique, especially with real world noise around.

        • According to Elixir, the AK8973 magnetometer in my Nexus S, from Asahi Kasei Microdevices has a resolution of 0,0625uT with a temporal resolution of 16667us. With an extensive enough database, that should be enough to distinguish between types of devices at the very least. Differentiating between individual devices or makes/models, now that's a whole other can of worms. It may or may not be possible, but on this one, I'm leaning to go with you and say that such in-depth profiling is indeed impossible.

    • And so Apple makes their products incompatible with the rest of the universe in yet one more way! It's not easy being an Apple customer, is it?

      I disagree completely (The only problem I do see with this move is that they'd try to patent such an obvious alternative to the technology). As an Android developer and as someone who is optimistic about NFC (not necessarily about payment NFC, but about the simpler use cases of NFC that do not require access to the hardware secure element). Whenever I speak to a potential client about using NFC, the conversation always gets steered to a way to make it backwards compatible for other devices.

      And this is perfe

  • If I am understanding this right, this method uses hardware that already exists in most smartphones. Unfortunately, I double Apple wants to put this technology on all existing smartphones. At most, they will put it into the iPhone 5 since they didn't bother to put a NFC chip in it when they put it on the market.
  • *facepalm* (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ilsaloving (1534307) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @06:38PM (#41687265)

    Okay, Apple is pulling a '90s Microsoft now. NFC isn't good enough cause they can't control it, so they just HAVE to make their own. Just like Microsoft did with WAV files, TrueType fonts, etc.

  • Sounds like it would use a fair bit of power if it has to do calculations the whole time.
  • >magnetic field signature is computed based on the monitored compass output

    In what way is this no 'near field communications'
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Near_and_far_field [wikipedia.org]

  • Apple acquires patents from the AFC (American Football Conference) after talks with the NFC fall through. Apple just had to get a piece of the $10B American Football industry.
  • It's simple. If Apple were to use a standard NFC sytem, they would have to admit that the iPhone 5 actually isn't the be all and end all of smartphones. And even if they did, using a standard implementation would mean they couldn't act like they invented something entirely new that nobody had ever had or been using for one or two years prior....
  • Oh great. *This* will server consumers well: competing standards, a fragmented market, and many years delay in widespread adoption. Nice work, Apple.
  • Standards [xkcd.com]

The shortest distance between two points is under construction. -- Noelie Alito

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