Is Apple nobbling iPhones to avoid more patent misery?
Android-like autocorrect discovered hidden in iOS 5
iOS 5 has a hidden autocorrect function, suggesting words along the top of the keyboard in an Android-like XT9 fashion, which can be enabled with a minor configuration tweak.
The feature was spotted by self-proclaimed iOS hacker Sonny Dickson, and 9 To 5 Mac has the step-by-step guide to enable it – for those who'd prefer to select from a list of suggested words rather than typing the last few letters.
The hack involves modifying a preferences file, which has to be backed up and restored, but various sources report that it works without difficulty and is clearly a feature that Apple intended to enable at some point in the future though we can't help wondering if there are some patent issues involved.
T9, the pioneers of predictive text who used internet searches to establish that those writing "ham" wanted to say "ibm" and texters were far more likely to call someone a "shiv" than a "shit", own a great deal of intellectual property around identifying writers' intentions.
These days the company, and its intellectual property, is owned by Nuance, which produces the XT9 incarnation that graces so many Android handsets in just the way that the hack enables an iPhone to act.
Hackers have previously found a panorama mode hidden in the iOS 5 camera app, though uncovering it is more of a challenge. But given the availability of apparently fully functional features embedded in the OS one has to wonder if this isn't the result of Apple treading carefully to avoid getting further embroiled in further litigation.
If so then it's exactly what many people have feared: that the devices we have today are being deliberately crippled to avoid patent disputes.
One might even imagine a company deliberately including a disabled feature, ensuring that enabling it was trivial while avoiding having to pay the patent owners, in the same way that DVD players are sold locked to one region (as required by the DVD standard) but most can be unlocked with minimal effort.
But that's just speculation, this news just means that iPhone users can enable autocorrect, and enjoy making the kind of mistakes that only the internet could enjoy. ®
Too that effect then...
... surely Samsung can put a modification on their tablets case that could be sort of removed thus defeating any litigation, maybe some square corner clips that the consumer accidently confuses as packaging material and removes them on opening the box.
Before you jump to conclusions...
Apple are now viciously strict with their ship dates, but any of us who've ever done it know that software development rarely produces something on time. A conspiracy theory is far less likely than a good old schedule crunch: these are features that most likely missed the code-freeze.
Take this scenario:
The iProduct features require improvements to the Virtual keyboard, there are bugs in some east-Asian locales, and there's a feature requirement for X9-like input too.
The dev team starts pulling apart the keyboard code, adding the new features and fixes simultaneously. The X9-alike is to be a user-selectable option, so it's governed by a preference selector.
Release comes nearer, and the system is ready to freeze, most of the virtual keyboard library is fine, and some critical bugs in, say, Thai input have been fixed, and need to be rolled out.
However, but the X9-ish stuff just isn't working out - maybe it leaks memory, maybe it has poor responsiveness, maybe it doesn't insert the word "cunninlingus" in at the most inappropriate place, like the regular keyboard does. Whatever the reason, it needs another two weeks, and there's no way they're going to stall iOS 5 for that.
So the option now is to either unpick the code for X9, and risk destabilising the stuff that works, or hide the preference that turns it on. Apple are pretty good at making software, so which do you think they do?
It's not to hide from patent litigation - it's so they can enable the features later on a newer device and claim it's an amazing, magical new upgrade. Only $500, kids!