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Apple blueprints the iShoe

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Providing further proof that the days of Apple Computer are far behind, the US Patent and Trademark Office published two of Cupertino's latest patent filings on Thursday: one for a head-mounted MP3 player, and a second for what might well be described as the iShoe.

The first, Wireless Headset with Integrated Media Player, is intended to give Bluetooth phone headsets something to do between calls.

As the filing states: "When used with mobile telephones, such headsets are frequently worn continually by their users, even when not engaged in telephone calls, because it is too inconvenient to have to reinsert the headset in one's ear each time a call comes in, while the phone is ringing and before the caller gives up and disconnects. Therefore, such headsets may be idle most of the time that they are being worn."

Apple solution to this highly unproductive situation is to provide those idle headsets with the capability to play MP3s, record your voice, and respond to voice commands, and allow "voicemail messages received on the user's telephone [to] be uploaded into the headset for later off-line playback."

The envisioned device could either be loaded with tunes through the same connection used to charge it - as with an iPod or iPhone - or by using a phone's wireless capabilities.

Two "embodiments," as they're referred to in patentese, are described: one of the simple monaural Bluetooth earpiece type as seen sprouting from auditory canals worldwide, or a two-speaker over-the-head or behind-the-neck stereo version.

Controls, the filing states, could be "widely varied and may include for example slide switches, depressible buttons, dials, wheels, navigation pads, touch pads, and/or the like."

In addition, "Corresponding visual indicators, such as light-emitting diodes, might also be provided as an indication of the current operating mode" - although, seeing as how the device will be on your head, you may need a friend to tell you which LED is blinking.

The second of Thursday's filings is an odd duck. The concisely entitled Shoe Wear-Out Sensor, Body-Bar Sensing System, Unitless Activity Assessment and Associated Methods solves that vexing problem of knowing exactly how worn your shoes are without needing to...uh...look at them.

The filing goes to great pains to explain the value of that foot-enclosing wonder, the shoe, while decrying the perils of failing footwear:

Shoes (including sneakers or boots, for example) provide comfort and protection for feet. More importantly, shoes provide physical support for feet to reduce risk of foot injuries. A shoe is often necessary to provide support during intense physical activity, such as running, soccer and American football. As a shoe wears, physical support provided by the shoe decreases, thereby reducing associated protection from injury. When a critical wear level is reached, even if the shoe looks like it is not particularly worn, the shoe may not provide adequate support and may, in fact, cause damage to feet.

Fear not, shoe afficianadoes, Cupertino has the solution to your fears of forthcoming footwear failure: "In one embodiment," the filing reads, "a shoe wear out sensor includes at least one detector for sensing a physical metric that changes as a shoe wears out, a processor configured to process the physical metric, over time, to determine if the shoe is worn out, and an alarm for informing a user of the shoe when the sole is worn out."

One can only imagine the sense of disaster-avoidance relief that would be engendered by a 100-decibel alarm screaming from your sole that your Nike Zoom Structure Triax+ 12 iDs are ready for the dustbin.

Speaking of Nike, Apple has for years partnered with that footwear powerhouse to produce the Nike + iPod system, which links your shoes to your iPod or iPhone to keep a running tally of your workouts, providing data uploadable to the Nike+ website where you can keep tallies of your foot-borne travels, plus share and compare workout data with other runners.

Perhaps this latest patent filing envisions a day when info about not only your own personal health, but also that of your shoes, will reside in the cloud. ®

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