Apple Patent Would Use The iPad’s Built-In Magnets To Turn The Tablet Into An In-Car Entertainment System

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A new patent application by Apple published by the USPTO this week describes a stand for the iPad that uses magnets to hold the Apple tablet in place. iPads already come with fairly powerful magnets built into their frames, something Apple introduced along with the very first model to make the iPad compatible with its smart cover. The patent describes a magnetic stand which would be able to hold the iPad firmly in place in a number of different settings, and perform various functions.

Some examples provided in the patent include mounting the iPad to a tripod, a treadmill, or a music stand, and even attaching two iPads together via a hinge that would allow iPads to be used together in a book-style configuration. The patent text says that the mounting device would work together with a shielded, in-built magnetic component on the target device (which the iPad already has), thus enabling for a much stronger connection that would normally be possible, since powerful unshielded magnets could have an adverse effect on internal electronic components.

The mounting system described in the patent does more than just provide for a stand that can grip the iPad firmly: different permutations also include data connections, so that in the book type instance, for example, both tablet devices have a wired connection built in to their portion of the hinge, making communication between the two tablets possible. That would mean things like flipping pages in a book would actually have an effect on both tablet displays simultaneously, instead of each acting independently.

The patent also goes into a lot more detail about how an in-car mount might work with an iPad. A rotational sensor could be used to activate and deactivate the tablet, for instance, meaning the iPad could have an on and off position (likely portrait and landscape respectively), and there’s also potential to have a tablet-to-vehicle connection initiated when a car detects a specific “magnetic signature.” That, combined with wireless connection direct to a car’s communication system, would effectively render a person’s iPad a unique and personalized in-car entertainment device and control console.

The patent describes a driver issuing voice-based commands to the iPad, which are passed on to the car to change the car’s “configuration.” The communication would be two-way, too, with the car feeding  ”car status information “ back to the iPad, which would also be able to handle navigation duties and play back music through the connected car’s stereo.

At first glance, this patent application by Apple is just about using the iPad’s magnetics for more than simply holding onto a cover. But digging in deeper, it’s actually about turning the iPad into pretty much exactly the kind of in-car accessory I recently hoped for aloud in a post bemoaning the current state of in-car entertainment systems. Overall, this patent could do a lot to help expand the iPad’s dominion even further, by turning it into a carry-anywhere intelligent, integrated media console for a variety of different devices and applications that currently have less than impressive built-in versions of the same.

TechCrunch » Gadgets

Meet The Entirely E-Ink 3G Smartphone That Could Cost As Little As A Dumbphone


It takes a lot to stand out at a trade show the size of Mobile World Congress. But here’s one device that caught my eye today: an e-ink smartphone. Unlike Yota Phone, the Russian startup that’s using e-ink as a second screen to augment the back of a powerful high end smartphone in a bid to stand out in the uber crowded Android space, this prototype device has just the one screen. A single e-ink screen on the front of the device — so it’s a true e-ink phone.

It’s also a true smartphone. There were two prototypes on show at Eink‘s stand, both with a 1GHz chip inside and one (the white one) with a 3G chip in it. The other had Edge connectivity. The phones run Android but, as you’d expect, the OS has been simplified with a custom UI that strips back the functionality to focus on the applications that make sense for a fully e-ink smartphone — such as a reader app, a dialer and email. The UI also includes a web browser since certain types of webpages can be viewed on an e-ink screen. It won’t support video of course but text-based sites can still be read.

The black prototype device (pictured below) also includes a backlight for reading in the dark. Both screens are capacitive, but as you’d expect with e-ink the refresh rate can be a little slow. Ghosting on the screen from past renders can be removed by shaking the device. The technology can support both portrait and landscape orientation so the e-ink smartphone could be turned on its side to switch the orientation to more of an e-reader sized width. Both devices felt incredibly lightweight.

Why do you want an only e-ink phone? Price for one thing. Battery life for another. Not to mention visibility in bright sunlight. Put all those factors together and this could be the perfect device for some emerging markets where electricity is at a premium. The prototypes are proof of concept at this point but Giovanni Mancini, director of product management for E-ink — the company which makes the screen — said the Chinese OEM which has made the prototypes, Fndroid, is talking to telcos and could launch a device this year.

So how much would this e-ink smartphone cost? Mancini said the device maker would set the price but in his view it would be comparable with a feature phone price tag. A big theme of this year’s MWC has been smaller mobile players — from open source OSes like Firefox that are seeking to drive openness and accessibility and drive down the cost of devices, to mobile veterans like Nokia focusing afresh on building smarter feature phones to target cost-conscious users in emerging markets. So it’s interesting to see companies toying with the idea of an entirely e-ink smartphone to cut device costs while preserving key smartphone functions such as access to the internet and email.

Click to view slideshow.

TechCrunch » Gadgets

CloudOn 4.0 Brings Microsoft Office To Android Phones


CloudOn, the popular free mobile productivity app that gives its users access to Microsoft Office on their smartphones and tablets, was only available on iOS and for Android tablets like the Nexus 7 until now. Starting today, however, Android smartphone users, too, will be able to use the company’s service to create, review, edit and share their Office documents from devices like the Galaxy Nexus 4 and Galaxy Note.

CloudOn tells us that it is currently seeing an average of 540k new downloads per month. So far, the company says, December 20 was its best day ever with over 90k.

In addition, CloudOn also updated its FileSpace – a kind of news feed for all the activity that happens around a given file. This feature brings together all the annotations, edits and notes other may have added to a document and which, as CloudOn argues, usually get lost as files get shared back and forth via email.

For the Android smartphone version, CloudOn also introduced a revamped version of the Microsoft Office ribbon that makes it easier to use on a touch-enabled device by spacing icons out a bit and making them larger so that “functions like selecting font size, turning on track changes or creating a table are dead simple for users across all editing options.”

Just like the iOS and Android tablet version, Android smartphone users will also be able to view their documents in landscape mode, add notes and comment to any file and access their files on Dropbox, SkyDrive, Google Drive and other cloud-storage services right from the app (CloudOn doesn’t want to be in the strorage business, so they fully rely on third-party services for that).

“We are thrilled that CloudOn is now available across the entire Android ecosystem, and are excited to be able to reach more of our loyal customer base,” said CloudOn CEO Milind Gadekar in a canned statement today. “In addition to bringing Microsoft Office to Android phones, we are excited to give our users a better way to create content, and also access the critical contextual information around documents as we continue to grow our productivity offering.”

TechCrunch » android

This Could Be The World’s First 3D-Printed Car

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With 3D printing on the verge of going mainstream, you can manufacture almost anything.

You can now add a 3D-printed car to that list.

The Urbee 2 is a three-wheeled hybrid assembled entirely from parts spat out of 3D printers, reports Wired. Just as Makerbot and Form 1 have changed the way we perceive manufacturing, Urbee is seeking to change the way we build cars.

Urbee is the brainchild of Jim Kor and his team at Kor Ecologic, a company solely dedicated to the future of 3D vehicle manufacturing. Their website expands upon their grand vision for the future of the automobile.

“Use the least amount of energy possible for every kilometer travelled.
Cause as little pollution as possible during manufacturing, operation, and recycling of the car.
Use materials available as close as possible to where the car is built.”

Kor’s aim is to make the cars of the future light, energy-efficient and easy to manufacture.

The manufacturing process of the Urbee takes place entirely inside RedEye, a 3D-printing facility that was also used to produce the world’s first 3D-printed motorcycle. Kor says one of the virtues of 3D printing is the added flexibility that’s impossible to produce with sheet metal. Instead of producing a multitude of parts that would be assembled later, the 3D printers can spit out a single, unibody part that makes manufacturing simpler. Kor simply uploads the models for each part into the printers, and 2,500 hours later, Kor has all the plastic parts he needs to assemble his car.

Kor has assurances that the Urbee will be perfectly safe to drive out on in the road. “We’re calling it race car safety,” Kor tells Wired. “We want the car to pass the tech inspection required at Le Mans.” And the car isn’t entirely made of plastic. The engine and the base chassis, of course, will be made of steel.

Good luck, Urbee. You may look like an oversized computer mouse, but you’ve come a long way from the days when you looked like this.

TechCrunch » Gadgets

The CAT B15 Android Smartphone Has A Weird Name But The Brawn To Back It Up


Just as some people are put on this earth to create things, others are prone to destroy everything they touch. Those people should probably spend some time with the Caterpillar-branded CAT B15, an aluminum-and-rubber-clad Android smartphone that (inadvertently) encouraged people to work on their stress issues here at MWC.

Naturally, Caterpillar isn’t actually making the phones — it’s a very far cry from the engines and bulldozers that the company is better known for. The device itself is made by a licensee called Bullitt Mobile, a U.K.-based company whose sole reason for existing seems to be churning out these sorts of rugged handsets.

In fact, It’s actually rather hard to get a firm idea of how tough this thing actually is. Sure, it’s completely dust-proof (assuming all the ports are properly closed) and the 4-inch display is swathed in second generation Gorilla Glass, but it’s all sort of abstract until you hold the thing in your hand the feel the urge to heave it somewhere. In spite of its considerable chubbiness, the B15 is actually lighter than you’d expect, though it’s still going to elicit some stares should you shove the thing into your pocket.

In a classic case of brawn vs. brains, the B15 isn’t the snappiest thing you’ll ever see with its dual-core 1GHz Qualcomm processor and but it’s still got enough horsepower to handle most daily tasks. If anything, performance is aided by the fact that the particular build of Android loaded up on the B15 is totally stock — no garish, cumbersome UI to be found here.

And perhaps best of all, the 4-inch display recognizes touch input even when it’s wet — mostly. After a booth representative shot down my attempt to hurl the thing like baseball (not a huge loss, my fastball is pretty lousy), I settled for dunking the B15 in some water a few times. For the first few instances, things worked fine, but at some point you’ll eventually have to wipe the thing down for it to start behaving properly again. Hardly a big deal, but those of you looking for an Android-powered diving buddy will have to look elsewhere (especially because it’s only waterproof until you go deeper than 1 meter).

In the event that your current smartphone is just too puny to keep up with your lifestyle, the CAT B15 will be available in March for €395 — try not to hurt yourself until then.

Click to view slideshow.

TechCrunch » Gadgets