Apple proposes acoustic separation for iPhone conference calls

Posted:
in iPhone edited January 2014
Apple in the second of two interesting patent filings revealed this week discusses techniques for improving the iPhone's ability to serve as a multi-party communication environment, in which participants on conference calls can be assigned to virtual position in order to improve clarity.



The technique is particularly suited for communication devices with at least two speakers available for audio output, such an iPhone with a connected pair of earphones or headset.



When a conference call is initiated, participants would be presented with a graphical user interface on the iPhone for use in managing the virtual locations for the plurality of participants.



"The visual indication for at least one of the participants can be assigned to a different one of the visually distinct regions, thereby causing an audio sound associated with the participant to be spatially adapted to originate from a virtual location corresponding to the visually distinct region," Apple said in the filing.



"To assist the user of the device in determining and distinguishing the different participants in the multi-party call, directional audio processing can be utilized so that the different sources of audio for the call can be directionally placed in a particular location with respect to the headset. As a result, the user of the device hears the other participants in the multi-party call as sound sources originating from different locations. "



In one implementation, Apple said the assignment to the default positions is automatic, either based on the participants' position geographically or in the order at which the participants joined the multi-party call.



"Next, a participant position screen is displayed," Apple continued with is explanation. "The participant position screen can enable a user to alter the position of one or more of the participants to the multi-party call. Here, the participant position screen is displayed such that a user of the portable communication device can manipulate or otherwise cause one or more of the positions associated with the participants to be changed. In doing so, the user, in one embodiment, can cause the physical movement of a representation of a participant on the participant position screen. Here, a decision determines whether a reposition request has been made. When the decision determines that a reposition request has been made, the associated participant is moved to the specified position."



All the participants on an iPhone conference call could also share media items such as "songs, albums, audiobooks, playlists, movies, music videos, photos, computer games, podcasts, audio and/or video presentations, news reports, and sports updates."







In particular, the patent filing contains considerable discussion of multi-party voice calls with concurrent audio playback. "One aspect of the invention pertains to a wireless system that supports both wireless communications and media playback," Apple said. "The wireless communications and the media playback can be concurrently supported. Consequently, a user is able to not only participate in a voice call but also hear audio playback at the same time."



In such instances, another graphical user interface would be presented on the iPhone's screen to allow each user to "blend" the two audio sources to their individual liking, independent of one another.



"The display screen includes a blend control. The blend control allows a user of the portable electronic device to alter the blend (or mixture) of audio from audio playback and audio from a voice call. [...] The blend control includes a slider that can be manipulated by a user towards either an audio end or a call end. As the slider is moved towards the audio end, the audio playback output gets proportionately greater than the voice call output. On the other hand, when the slider is moved towards the call end, the voice call output gets proportionally greater than the audio playback output. For example, the position of the slider can represent a mixture of the audio playback output and the voice call output with each amplified similarly so that the mixture is approximately 50% audio."







"The audio for each can be altered such that the audio from the incoming call and the audio from the media playback are perceived by a listener (when output to a pair of speakers, either internal or external) as originating from different virtual locations. The different virtual locations can be default positions or user-specified (during playback or in advance). [...] The sender or recipient of the audio sounds pertaining to a media item can be permitted to separately control the volume or amplitude of the audio sounds pertaining to the media item. As a result, the mixture or blend of the audio sounds pertaining to media items as compared to audio sounds pertaining to the voice call can be individually or relatively controlled."



The September 2006 filing, titled "Audio processing for improved user experience," is credited to Apple employees Michael Lee and Derek Barrentine.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 68
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 28,371member
    Must've come out of their work with 3D stereo separation with Soundtrack/Final Cut Pro or Steve's movie involvement. This would be interesting applied to stereo audio over a phone call. Very interesting. I wonder what kind of bandwith/data rate is needed for effective spatial audio over a phone?
  • Reply 2 of 68
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    Looks like Apple is utilizing their strengths to take another chunk out of corporate. As much as I hate the cost and, IMO, the pointlessness of conference calls they are very popular. This method could be done on the cheap using 3G and WiFi with ease and perhaps even allow for simple keynote presentations and images to be sent to the device like with iChat A/V.
  • Reply 3 of 68
    quinneyquinney Posts: 2,494member
    iDucker, iDe-esser, iLimiter, iSurroundMixer
  • Reply 4 of 68
    cubertcubert Posts: 728member
    Jesus, did some kid scrawl on a few napkins when they came up with this patent?



    That being said, the best just keeps on (potentially) getting better.
  • Reply 5 of 68
    cubertcubert Posts: 728member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by solipsism View Post


    Looks like Apple is utilizing their strengths to take another chick out of corporate. As much as I hate the cost and, IMO, the pointlessness of conference calls they are very popular. This method could be done on the cheap using 3G and WiFi with ease and perhaps even allow for simple keynote presentations and images to be sent to the device like with iChat A/V.



    What chick would that be? Eliot Spitzer's Kristen?



  • Reply 6 of 68
    boogabooga Posts: 1,071member
    Yes! Yes! OMG YES FTW!



    As someone who spends a couple hours a day in audio conferences, lack of positional audio is a huge, huge frustration. It makes a lot of conversations turn into an unintelligible jumble. Giving each member a position is a great first step, but I'd love to see stereo/surround microphones specially built for audioconferencing and a protocol to match.
  • Reply 7 of 68
    mydomydo Posts: 1,888member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by SpamSandwich View Post


    Must've come out of their work with 3D stereo separation with Soundtrack/Final Cut Pro or Steve's movie involvement. This would be interesting applied to stereo audio over a phone call. Very interesting. I wonder what kind of bandwith/data rate is needed for effective spatial audio over a phone?



    Can't be all that 3D with only two speakers. At best it's 2D.
  • Reply 8 of 68
    aplnubaplnub Posts: 2,569member
    OmniGraffle?
  • Reply 9 of 68
    mchumanmchuman Posts: 154member
    Theres nothing sexy about conference calls.
  • Reply 10 of 68
    echosonicechosonic Posts: 445member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by quinney View Post


    iDucker, iDe-esser, iLimiter, iSurroundMixer





    iCompressor, iDelay, iGate, iVerb
  • Reply 11 of 68
    echosonicechosonic Posts: 445member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by echosonic View Post


    iCompressor, iDelay, iGate, iVerb



    iPan, iGain, iChorus, iPitch
  • Reply 12 of 68
    Not patentable. R & D from all major telco and cell phone companies has been ongoing for years.



    The ARM is fully capable of positional audio, and many companies already provide 3d audio optimized for ARM (and other) processors including QSound and Beatnik.



    Someone asked about bandwidth requirements...there are no extra bandwidth requirements for 3d audio All you need is two speakers and a position and the filters do the rest.



    Gregor
  • Reply 13 of 68
    physguyphysguy Posts: 910member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by SpamSandwich View Post


    Must've come out of their work with 3D stereo separation with Soundtrack/Final Cut Pro or Steve's movie involvement. This would be interesting applied to stereo audio over a phone call. Very interesting. I wonder what kind of bandwith/data rate is needed for effective spatial audio over a phone?



    As I understand this no bandwith/data rate changes are required. This is basically like assigning a different balance level to each source on the conference call. I assume this can only work if the iPhone is the aggregator of the caller - i.e. you call one person, put on hold, call another, etc. Then it can assign each source to a different virtual location. If you a simply part of another conference call then I don't see how the iphone could do anything about this as it would have to 'recognize' voices or have a tag sent by the conference center each time a speaker changed.
  • Reply 14 of 68
    mydomydo Posts: 1,888member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by gbrandt View Post


    Not patentable. R & D from all major telco and cell phone companies has been ongoing for years.



    The ARM is fully capable of positional audio, and many companies already provide 3d audio optimized for ARM (and other) processors including QSound and Beatnik.



    Someone asked about bandwidth requirements...there are no extra bandwidth requirements for 3d audio All you need is two speakers and a position and the filters do the rest.



    Gregor



    From what I understand from the picture they are patenting the concept and user interface that allows someone to manage conference calls this way.
  • Reply 15 of 68
    Well, its a bit more complex than simple balance control per person. Sound can actually be place behind a person (although not perfectly) but directly above and below works quite well.
  • Reply 16 of 68
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by mydo View Post


    From what I understand from the picture they are patenting the concept and user interface that allows someone to manage conference calls this way.



    You are probably right. But they may still have issues. I've seen demo programs that allow you to move a speaker (person) around at will.



    Gregor
  • Reply 17 of 68
    gustavgustav Posts: 816member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by mydo View Post


    Can't be all that 3D with only two speakers. At best it's 2D.



    Really? How many ears do you have?



    It's quite possible to do 3D sound with two audio sources. Clever frequency and harmonic processing will give very good 3D spatialization. Speakers will work ok, but headphones should much better as they know the sources are directly at your ears.



    This is a pretty cool idea.
  • Reply 18 of 68
    mydomydo Posts: 1,888member
    Yea. I think most of these software patents are "obvious" but patents haven't been about protecting ideas for a long time
  • Reply 19 of 68
    physguyphysguy Posts: 910member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by gbrandt View Post


    Well, its a bit more complex than simple balance control per person. Sound can actually be place behind a person (although not perfectly) but directly above and below works quite well.



    Hence the word "basically". The main point is that the iPhone has to be the aggregator of the conference call for this to be useful otherwise it has no idea which sound to assign to which position.
  • Reply 20 of 68
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 28,371member
    SRS simulates 3D audio with only 2 speakers, so be advised.
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