Apple proposes tiny RF modules for ever-present connectivity

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited January 2014
With the exception of the iPhone, Apple's products largely lack technology to provide ubiquitous access to the outside world while on the go. However, a new proposal from the company would attempt to solve this problem, and provide ever-present access to the Internet, through a series of tiny RF modules that can be toted or place just about anywhere.



In a 36-page filing published for the first time Thursday and titled "Personal area network systems and devices and methods for use thereof," the electronics maker outlines a system for allowing products with only short-range communications circuitry, such as iPods and MacBooks, to connect to and leverage those equipped with long-range technology, such as the iPhone or specially designed RF modules.



These special RF modules would be "constructed to be a high efficiency, low cost, devices" that may lack a direct user interface, like the company's AirPort base stations. They'd package short-range circuity -- such as WiFi, Bluetooth and other high frequency systems (2.4 GHz, and 5.6 GHz communication systems) -- for connecting to devices that lack long-range circuitry, in addition to long-range circuitry that those host devices can tap into, such as GSM, GPRS, EDGE, and CDMA.



The tiny RF modules would be "ubiquitous in that they permeate every aspect of a person's life," Apple says. "For example, a user may keep a RF module on his or her person such in a purse, handbag or article of clothing, in a house, a transportation vehicle (e.g., a car), or an office. This way, a user need not worry about having to carry a long-range communications device wherever he or she may go, as a RF module may be kept in locations frequently visited by the user."



In some applications, multiple RF modules may be kept in a single location, such as a house, office building, or city. "When the user moves from one location to another, the host device may determine which RF module to access when requiring use of a long-range communications protocol," the company says.







For power, the RF modules would use a fixed or removable rechargeable battery, such as a lithium-ion battery, disposable alkaline battery, or any other portable power source, including kinetic energy converters. They could also be constructed to receive power from an external source such as a conventional outlet, a car outlet, or an external battery pack.



In addition to serving as connectivity hubs for portable computers and handheld devices, a single or series of RF modules scattered through a specific locations could also form the backbone of a robust VoIP network. For instance, host devices -- such as iPods, car stereo systems or other devices that lack long-range technology -- could tap into the AddressBook on a Mac or iPhone to make telephone calls or conduct text message conversation that would be routed to through the network of RF modules.







The host device may maintain a communication event (e.g., a telephone call) without interruption (e.g., a dropped call) when switching from one RF module to another or to a wireless phone," Apple says.



What's more, the company describes methods that would allow users to abstain from handling a short-range host device altogether by instead tying smaller peripheral -- or accessory -- devices into the communications network.







"Peripheral devices can be portable, handheld, miniature, or wearable devices. The peripheral device can be used to control the operation of the host or hybrid device or may be used to display information relating to a function or feature of the host or hybrid device," the filing says. "For example, a peripheral device may be a fashion accessory such as a watch that may display information (e.g., the name of the currently playing song or name of the person on the call) and also allow a user to control functions (e.g., playback, volume, or telephony features such as end call and accept call) of the host device. Other peripheral devices may provide host control functions but may not have a display, and yet other peripheral devices may provide input (e.g., keyboard) and output (e.g., LCD or printer) functions."







Similarly, the same principles would apply to a personal area network formed in an automobile or in connection with a communications system in an automobile. Apple explains that "host device may be physically connected to an automobile stereo system and may allow a user to access telephony features provided by the host device using the stereo system. For example, a user may browse through contact list information (stored on the host device) using the stereo system and select a user to initiate a call. When the call is initiated, the host device may access the long-range communications protocol of a RF module or wireless phone to conduct the call. The user's voice may be picked by a microphone that may be integrated within the host device, a cable interconnecting the host device and the stereo system, or associated with the car stereo or other communications system of the automobile."



The April 2007 filing is credited to Apple employee Michael Rosenblatt, a program manager at the Cupertino-based company who is a graduate of MIT's Media Lab. He's also responsible for a similar patent revealed this past May, which proposed the idea of short-range Apple Wi-Fi networks that could be deployed in restaurants, concert halls, and zoos, allowing merchants and attraction organizers to interact with patrons through their Apple handheld devices.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 46
    This is confusing, so where does the RF get its internet signal from? Home? If so how would it broadcast the signal all the way to work?
  • Reply 2 of 46
    They obviously resisted the urge to refer to it as 'Personal Area Network Technology Systems'.
  • Reply 3 of 46
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by bloggerblog View Post


    This is confusing, so where does the RF get its internet signal from? Home? If so how would it broadcast the signal all the way to work?



    RF means any signal propagated through the air. Cell phone signals fall into that range.
  • Reply 4 of 46
    kasperkasper Posts: 940member, administrator
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by bloggerblog View Post


    This is confusing, so where does the RF get its internet signal from? Home? If so how would it broadcast the signal all the way to work?



    The RF module would have GPS, CMDA chips inside, in addition to those that support short-range communications such as WiFi and Bluetooth.



    K
  • Reply 5 of 46
    asciiascii Posts: 5,513member
    Well it would save having to build a long range transmitter in to every little device. Realistically though, I can see the cellphone evolving in to this kind of router. All your little widgets connect to your cellphone through bluetooth to get to the Net. I don't see it being a separate product.
  • Reply 6 of 46
    jeffdmjeffdm Posts: 12,946member
    It seems that Apple could enable a lot of this simply adding a profile or two in their Bluetooth stack and letting devs use it.
  • Reply 7 of 46
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by ascii View Post


    Well it would save having to build a long range transmitter in to every little device. Realistically though, I can see the cellphone evolving in to this kind of router. All your little widgets connect to your cellphone through bluetooth to get to the Net. I don't see it being a separate product.



    i agree
  • Reply 8 of 46
    aaarrrggghaaarrrgggh Posts: 1,557member
    This doesn't exactly strike me as innovative; it was the whole concept behind Bluetooth ten years ago: Create a personal-area network with bridge devices to a wide-area network. The only thing slightly different is the ubiquitous nature of the bridge devices, but that is a natural extension of the concept.



    But, I have always hoped that Apple would innovate in this realm. Make the cellular network interface devices cheap and minimalist (I'd prefer a 12-key keyboard and one line display so it could have some functionality on its own). This is the easiest way to support new wide-area technologies without needing the telcos to be really on board with it. Get them back in the "bit business" (or byte business if you prefer).
  • Reply 9 of 46
    (*thud*) is the cell phone CEOs hitting the floor from fainting, realizing that if this becomes big, then they are 1 of 2 gates through which all this data will likely pass. The other (high-pitched) sound is the traditional broadband CEOs double-checking their tasers.
  • Reply 10 of 46
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Kasper View Post


    The RF module would have GPS, CMDA chips inside, in addition to those that support short-range communications such as WiFi and Bluetooth.



    K



    Like WiFi RF is also limited by signal strength, I cannot broadcast my iPods music through my RF (AM/FM) car adapter as far as this patent claims unless I have a large RF tower.



    What am I missing?
  • Reply 11 of 46
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Kasper View Post


    The RF module would have GPS, CMDA chips inside, in addition to those that support short-range communications such as WiFi and Bluetooth.



    K



    I think there were actually two different RF modules mentioned: full-featured ones that operate like you said and other ones that would just provide a bridge to the full featured RF modules or other feature-rich devices like iPhones and iPod Touches.
  • Reply 12 of 46
    virgil-tb2virgil-tb2 Posts: 1,416member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by ascii View Post


    Well it would save having to build a long range transmitter in to every little device. Realistically though, I can see the cellphone evolving in to this kind of router. All your little widgets connect to your cellphone through bluetooth to get to the Net. I don't see it being a separate product.



    I think what they are proposing here is more of a ubiquitous standard for such devices and protocols.



    So, of course it would be in the cell phone, but if car manufacturers decided to put one in the car that can only help, if there was one in every bus stop or telephone pole in a city that would be helpful also, etc.
  • Reply 13 of 46
    As a radio astronomer who uses frequencies in this range to study the universe, can I go: oh god, no...



    It's difficult enough getting people to turn off their mobile phones near radio telescopes, let alone something embedded in their clothes!
  • Reply 14 of 46
    pmjoepmjoe Posts: 565member
    I'm apparently having a deja vu moment from 10 years ago when the Bluetooth spec was announced and Personal Area Networks were the hot topic.
  • Reply 15 of 46
    robb01robb01 Posts: 148member
    This is fascinating



    _______________

  • Reply 16 of 46
    tony1tony1 Posts: 258member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Mike Peel View Post


    It's difficult enough getting people to turn off their mobile phones near radio telescopes, let alone something embedded in their clothes!



    Just what I was thinking. It would be nice in a perfect world though.
  • Reply 17 of 46
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by robb01 View Post


    This is fascinating



    Indeed...like bovine sexual intercourse. All of this is EXTREMELY fascinating.
  • Reply 18 of 46
    olternautolternaut Posts: 1,376member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by jpellino View Post


    (*thud*) is the cell phone CEOs hitting the floor from fainting, realizing that if this becomes big, then they are 1 of 2 gates through which all this data will likely pass. The other (high-pitched) sound is the traditional broadband CEOs double-checking their tasers.



    The traditional cell phone companies need to die. They need to reborn as wireless data providers starting with the use of 4G technology. This primitive 2 year contract expensive monthly crap HAS GOT TO END if we are to truly push wireless data into the future.



    I'm sure that Apple has a multi year vision of how this is going to...or at least SHOULD play out. I wonder if starting next year we will Apple begin to push this initiative. It is VERY HARD for me to say this but I don't see devices such as the "mactouch" being able to take off without multiple personal area network technology being deployed soon.

    Perhaps they can debut a generation 1 mactouch using a monthly data only plan using cell phone companies current 3G technology. With plans of newer generations working off of various 4G technology networks.
  • Reply 19 of 46
    Ugh. Last thing I want in my life or the entire life of the planet is non-stop always-connected electronic thingies. It's like the Borg. C'mon I really like my privacy and want to be free from EM fields as much as possible. This kind of idea is slightly scary.
  • Reply 20 of 46
    Ericsson, before Sony Ericsson had something similar about 5 years ago using Bluetooth. This is hardly innovative.
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