I admit, I get excited about new technology. I also admit that when I learn about newly patented IT technology, I get really enthused. My current excitement is based on “hot off the wire” news that Microsoft and Apple have been granted patents that will dramatically alter how we use smartphones.

Let’s start with Microsoft

I remember not that long ago when PDA manufacturers were touting that we could all leave our computers at home. Just bring the PDA and all is well. I tried that once, and oh boy it so did not work.

That incident made me a card-carrying skeptic. Still, I was intrigued enough to read an InformationWeek article written by Ed Hansberry titled “Microsoft Patent Turns Smartphone into a PC.” I’m glad I read the article. If Microsoft can accomplish what they claim, it has the potential to forever change the way we view computing. Simply because Microsoft’s patent Smart Interface System for Mobile Communications Devices describes technology that could eliminate the need for desktops and notebooks.

The ultimate docking station

The idea behind Microsoft’s patent is simple: Just plug the smartphone into a docking station that will enhance the smartphone’s capabilities to a point where the combination mimics a full-blown computer. The on-board memory and processor functions of the smartphone would still be used, but all peripherals, such as keyboards, monitors, printers, and network adapters, would be controlled by the docking station.

That’s not really significant, as it’s been done before. I get excited (that word again) because the patent describes how the smartphone/docking station combination is able to alter user configurations depending on what peripherals are connected (as far as I know that’s not possible now).

For example, if the paired devices determine a game controller is connected to the dock, the smartphone assumes that you are at a specific location and configures the interface to reflect the parameters that are used at that location. How cool is that.

Microsoft also appears to have taken the size of the dock into consideration as the patent mentions:

“The dock should be small enough that you could stick it in a briefcase or bag to take on business trips, allowing you do tasks such as giving presentations without having to carry a laptop.”

Apple’s turn

I submit that it’s impossible to accuse Apple of being boring. I say that simply because Apple consistently comes up with innovative concepts. Apple’s latest patent Touch Screen Device, Method, and Graphical User Interface for Determining Commands by Applying Heuristics is a perfect example of this.

As the title predicts, the patent’s content relates to the iPhone’s heuristic user interface, which immediately started all sorts of buzz. Industry analysts began contemplating how the patent will affect Palm and their latest smartphone entry Pre, since it also has a heuristic user interface.

I must admit that I was one of those caught up in the buzz. That was until I read Alexander Wolfe’s InformationWeek article titled “Apple Planning Video-Call iPhone.” While reading the patent, Wolfe became interested in all the references to video applications. Which makes sense as it addresses a user complaint that the current iPhone doesn’t have a video-record feature. No big deal, it’s obvious that Apple’s engineers were just responding to user demands, or were they?

But video conferencing is

Apple is taking it a step further. Deep in the patent’s Description of Embodiments, Wolf kept finding references to a video conferencing application. Now, that’s a big deal, and Wolfe realized that Apple was serious when the patent referred to having a camera on the user-interface side of the iPhone as well as the back:

“In some embodiments, an optical sensor is located on the back of the device, opposite the touch screen display on the front of the device, so that the touch screen display may be used as a viewfinder for either still and/or video image acquisition.

In some embodiments, an optical sensor is located on the front of the device so that the user’s image may be obtained for videoconferencing while the user views the other video conference participants on the touch screen display.

In some embodiments, the position of the optical sensor can be changed by the user (e.g., by rotating the lens and the sensor in the device housing) so that a single optical sensor may be used along with the touch screen display for both video conferencing and still and/or video image acquisition.”

Talk about a leapfrog in technology, still we all should have known Apple is after all a media-centric company.

Final thoughts

I bet all sorts of patent attorneys are trying to get their minds around the significance of these two patents, especially the iPhone patent, because it has a bushel basket full of smartphone technology seemingly wrapped up.

I can hardly wait to see the actual technology work. Yet, ironically, it appears that we will have to make a choice. If the patents foretell the future, no one will have a smartphone using both innovations until the patents expire.

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