Feeds

Apple threatens Palm chomp

Patents drawn at 20 paces

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications

Palm has demonstrated it can still create truly compelling devices, but Apple wields a significant patent portfolio in the area and has made it clear that it isn't afraid to use it. So will Palm's success simply fill the Cupertino coffers?

The Palm Pre is everything Palm fans were hoping for, lacking only backwards compatibility to pile on top of the elegant form factor, impressive specification, and an intuitive interface. But it's that interface which is going to attract most attention in the coming months, and probable legal action once the device is launched. So El Reg took a trawl through the US Patent office records to see what Apple has got protected, and how Palm might be hoping to sidestep that intellectual property.

It's worth, first, being very clear. Apple didn't invent multi-touch interfacing - it bought it from the remnants of Fingerworks, an innovative multi-touch keyboard company that went bankrupt because punters wouldn't pay hundreds of dollars for a keyboard. Fingerworks keyboards feature multi-touch functions with gesture recognition - this article is being written on one - but they were not the first multi-touch product as the technique can be traced back to 1971 at least.

Apple did acquire a bunch of patents when they bought Fingerworks, but most of those are concerned with using chords of four or five keys, and working out which key is being pressed from the context - useful on the iPhone, but irrelevant to the Palm Pre with its slide-out QWERTY keypad. Since the acquisition Apple has been busy patenting every aspect of touch interfacing. A quick search for "Apple" and "finger" reveals 1571 patents - though at least one is for a super-safe kitchen chopping board rather than anything IT-related.

Most attention recently has been focused on Patent number 7,479,949, which was awarded to Apple a few days ago and has been described as a patent on multi-touch interfacing - though in reality the patent is far from being that. 7,479,949 covers the technique for discovering what the user has in mind when they touch the screen: some iPhone users find webpage hyperlinks almost impossible to tap on, as the iPhone assumes they want to scroll around the page - presumably because the user's finger isn't static enough.

This patent covers the detection of that movement, to establish if a contact is a tap or just a very short scrolling request. It also discusses the angle of movement dictating whether a purely horizontal or vertical scroll is preferred or if the user is requesting free scrolling.

Using an alternative finger-based browser, such as Opera, the scrolling is always free, so no detection of vertical or horizontal scrolling is used - while (in our experience) Opera can't detect the difference between a quick scroll and a tap-to-click anyway, so there's no conflict there. The Iris browser goes even further, requiring a one-second dwell to trigger a hyperlink.

But Apple isn't dependent on 7,479,949, as the company has several other patents pending that have a more obvious infringement potential.

Probably the most clear-cut would be Patent Application 20070146337, which covers the use of Newtonian physics on scrolling triggered by a stroking finger. The faster the finger moves the faster the content scrolls, but the patent also states explicitly that the movement may happen "in accordance with a simulation of a physical device having friction," which could be viewed as a genuine innovation - and one that the Palm Pre also sports.

Application number 20080094370 could also cause Palm some headaches, though until we get more exposure of the Pre interface, it's hard to say with any certainty. 20080094370 covers the idea of having multiple gestures triggering the same action - so a swipe to the right might show the next album cover, but tapping on the perspective-viewed cover would also work, as would tapping on a "next" button. It remains to be seen if the Pre has such flexibility, but hard to imagine it won't.

HP ProLiant Gen8: Integrated lifecycle automation

Next page: Gesture Capture

More from The Register

next story
Auntie remains MYSTIFIED by that weekend BBC iPlayer and website outage
Still doing 'forensics' on the caching layer – Beeb digi wonk
Apple orders huge MOUNTAIN of 80 MILLION 'Air' iPhone 6s
Bigger, harder trouser bulges foretold for fanbois
Bring back error correction, say Danish 'net boffins
We don't need no steenkin' TCP/IP retransmission and the congestion it causes
GoTenna: How does this 'magic' work?
An ideal product if you believe the Earth is flat
Samsung Z Tizen OS mobe is post-phoned – this time for good?
Russian launch for Sammy's non-droid knocked back
Telstra to KILL 2G network by end of 2016
GSM now stands for Grave-Seeking-Mobile network
Seeking LTE expert to insert small cells into BT customers' places
Is this the first step to a FON-a-like 4G network?
Yorkshire cops fail to grasp principle behind BT Fon Wi-Fi network
'Prevent people that are passing by to hook up to your network', pleads plod
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable
Learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.