iPad 5 rumour rollup for the week ending February 6

We can count on a new wow feature soon ... maybe

The most recent iPad 5 rumors draw fresh hope from newly announced Apple patents, from unnamed industry sources, and from pure wishful thinking.

We can count on a new wow feature soon, something to do with lasers and depth perception. And Apple will likely upgrade the iPad's display technology, if you're willing to accept industry sources at their word. Finally, if you want stereo speakers on the next iPad, start spreading rumours about it.

You read it here second. __________

iPad 5 will have cool depth perception system with a unique laser projection keyboard feature

This is the assessment of Patently Apple's Jack Purcher after reading one of the latest 20 Apple patent applications published by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. But even after reading his post, "Apple Reveals Cool Depth Perception System with a Unique Laser Projection Keyboard Feature for iDevices," it's hard to know 1) how it actually works, 2) what it's supposed to do, or 3) why we'd care.

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Maybe that's why it's cool.

Purcher says this patent is "the most of intriguing of all."

"While Apple has worked on 'presence detection systems' before relating to MacBooks and iDevices, this new system goes beyond mere detection," he explains. "For instance, in one application, Apple describes the new system integrated into an iPad that would be able to project a laser based keyboard onto a table. That would definitely be considered a wow-feature that could excite consumers."

Just reading about that wow-feature sends our pulse racing, our heart hammering, our hands trembling.

As near as we can figure out, a laser, or two, and a lens and an image sensor, or possibly the lens and image sensor of the existing or an improved camera, and a processor would perceive, umm, depth. Apparently, in practice this would mean the distance of the iPad from a surface. Or a person. Or both.

Then, the iPad could project an image of a control panel or keyboard onto the surface. And apparently your fingers on the projected keys would be translated into text. This latter step seems, to our unscientific mind, far more difficult and far more necessary if you're going to have a projected keyboard that you can actually use, instead of just look at.

It's all a little fuzzy.

But intriguing, no? "Remember, this could also apply to Apple's iPhone as well which would indicate that there would be some kind of associated smart cover or built-in stand so that the projected keyboard could function properly onto a surface. Apple's Smart Cover for the iPad may suffice or Apple could introduce a built-in kickstand as their September 2012 patent suggests."

So this intriguing and cool laser depth perception system actually will only work if you have the right accessories to hold the iPad in just the right position.

Purcher republishes an Apple drawing that shows an iMac with the Intriguing Depth Perception System consisting of the front-facing iSight camera and not one but two laser sources. With depth perception, the iMac (or the iPad) "is able to detect a user approaching it and activate a particular program, application, awake from sleep or power save mode, and the like." How this is different from "mere" presence detection is not explained.

We have to confess that even with the intriguing "and the like" added to that sentence, making it fecund with future promise, it's difficult for us to get the "wow-ness" of this feature.

iPad 5 will have GF2 DITO OMG IMHO screen structure

The ever-informative "industry sources" sent a thrill through the iOSphere when they confessed to DigiTimes that the Next iPad "will reportedly use the same G/F2 (DITO) thin-film type touch screen structure as the company's iPad mini ..."

And why? "[I]n order to make the device thinner and lighter, according to industry sources."

"Apple's current 9.7-inch iPad models use a G/G touch screen structure," DigiTimes declared. "The sources said Apple's move to use DITO technology shows the company is looking to bump up its competition in the tablet segment and that it has more adequate supply to the technology compared to one-glass-solution (OGS) technology."

In the blizzard of iOSphere reposts, links, and commentary that greeted this characteristically brief, not to mention sketchy, DigiTimes post, very few bothered to spell out the acronyms, let alone explain what they mean. Trying to clarify this, for those of us not experts in the various technologies that makeup finished touchscreen units, is a daunting task.

Touch displays layer materials to do two things: to show the website or photo or video that you want to see and to accept touches or gestures as inputs instead of mouse clicks or keyboard taps. The combination of materials and technologies varies depending on the size of the screen, and the choices are a complex balancing act: raw material costs, manufacturing optimization, power demand, and many other variables.

In 2012, Apple introduced two new innovations for touchscreens: glass-on-glass in-cell technology for the iPhone 5, and dual indium tin oxide (DITO) on film instead of glass for the iPad mini.

In-cell technology, which The Rollup covered in March 2012, can eliminate some of the layers in the display. The benefits include clear, crisp images, greater resistance to vibration and impact, reduced components, reduced thickness and weight, more efficient light utilization, and resulting lower power consumption.

Indium tin oxide is costly because it depends on the rare element indium. ITO is used to make transparent conductive coatings for touch screens and other displays. DITO means the coating can be layered on both sides of single substrate, again reducing the number of layers in the display. The iPad mini is the first Apple product to use DITO with a film instead of glass, helping to keep the overall display thin.

Apple holds patents related to DITO as well as at least one for a "method for fabricating thin DITO or SITO [the 'S' is for 'single'] touch sensor panels with a thickness less than a minimum thickness tolerance of existing manufacturing equipment."

There's been speculation for a while that Apple will replace the iPad's glass-on-glass (GG) structure with one or another alternative, partly to make it thinner, partly to improve manufacturing yields for this components. NPD DisplaySearch's Calvin Hsieh noted in a January assessment -- "Is Apple Changing its Mind on Touch Panel Structures?" -- the widespread belief that both in-cell and glass film dual ITO (sometimes rendered as GF2, according to one analyst) have relatively lower yields and therefore higher costs for now (though Apple evidently thinks those drawbacks are outweighed by consumer preference for thinner and lighter tablets).

Hsieh actually doesn't answer the question he poses. Rather he lays out the complex issues -- including adequate manufacturing volumes and intellectual property sharing -- that Apple faces in switching to two alternatives. One is a proprietary touch-on-display technology from Innolux, "a type of on-cell touch structure in which the sensor is located on the upper glass (the color filter substrate), beneath the top polarizer." The other is one-glass-solution (OGS) technology, which integrates the touch ITO sensor circuits into the cover glass. Taiwan's giant LCD maker, TPK, holds extensive patents in this area, according to Hsieh.

Hsieh references Asian news reports that both Innolux and TPK recently have delivered samples of their respective products to Apple. But that timeline, if true, might make it difficult for Apple to introduce either technology in a 2013 iPad 5.

iPad 5 suffering from low yields of stereo speaker rumors

"One of the things that has bugged me about Apple's flagship tablet since the first iPad arrived in 2010 has been the device's lack of stereo speakers" grouses Bryan M. Wolfe, in a post at AppAdvice, headlined "The One iPad 5 Rumor We Haven't Heard Much About But Really Should." 

So actually there are two things bugging him. The second is there aren't enough rumors about stereo speakers for the Next iPad. Apparently, Wolfe would feel better about the future of iPad stereo if there were more rumors about them. Welcome to surreality.

"While this was okay many iPad versions ago, it has become increasingly unacceptable," he declares, sounding increasingly vehement. "This is especially true given what the competition has done with tablet speakers, as has Apple with the iPad mini."

Like what, you ask? "The $199 Kindle Fire HD includes dual-driver stereo speakers that include Dolby Digital Plus technology. And yes, users can experience this with or without a headset."

Outrageous. It gets worse.

"Regrettably, we have heard very little about the likelihood that the next iPad will include better speakers," Wolfe complains, clearly let down by the iOSphere.

In fact, he can come up with only one previous rumor on this subject. "The only report that has focused recently on the speaker system of the iPad 5 came in January from Los Angeles industry analyst Paul Mueller," Wolfe writes. "He claimed that the next iPad will include stereo speakers. Beyond this, very little is known."

Who is this Paul Mueller, to whom Wolfe owes such a debt of rumoring gratitude? It turns out that apparently very little is known about him either. Wolfe is referring to a Jan. 11 post at Examiner.com, by one Daryl Deino, whose LinkedIn page lists his current employment as "technology reporter" for Examiner.com. 

Here's the money quote from Deino's post: "Los Angeles industry analyst Paul Mueller, who frequently contributes to this column, says that like the iPad mini, the iPad 5 will have stereo speakers. 'The speakers will be very strong and the sound will not be tinny,' Mueller tells us. He believes the device will be available sometime during the third week of March and will be priced the same as the current iPad 4."

In fact, industry analyst Paul Mueller seems to contribute only to Deino's columns. Last September, investigating rumors about an upcoming iPad with a 16:9 aspect ratio,

Forbes contributor Anthony Wing Kosner noted that "All of the references to the wide screen iPad idea either link back (eventually) to the Examiner post [by Daryl Deino] or list no alternate source." He continued: "The putative 'Los Angeles industry analyst Paul Mueller' that Deino refers to has no verifiable presence on the web. The closest I can find is a Paul Mueller-Bruehl, Design Lead, Mobile Platform Experience at Apple Inc., San Francisco Bay Area, on LinkedIn."

With regard to the iPad 5 stereo speakers the same Google search pattern emerges: All the citations of Mueller seem link back to or reference that one Deino post at Examiner.com. Deino did not reply to an email request for Mueller's contact information.

Kosner says that "Examiner.com is an affiliate of AEG Worldwide, a sprawling sports and entertainment marketing company, without much in the way of journalistic accountability."

But this seems to be a mistake. Examiner.com bills itself as a "dynamic entertainment, news and lifestyle network" written by "Examiners" who are "self-motivated independent contributors ... able to express through words and photos a deep expertise in a topic." As far as we can tell, the website does not have employees who are "technology reporters."

You can see the online list of "qualifications" to become an Examiner. Charitably, one could say the bar is set rather low.

Examiner.com is a division of Clarity Digital Group, LLC, wholly owned by The Anschutz Company, a Denver-based investment company controlled by billionaire Philip Anschutz, who also built AEG.

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World. Twitter: @johnwcoxnww Email: john_cox@nww.com

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Network World
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