Join the dots on six future Apple technologies

There's been lots of news lately detailing various Apple technology purchases, patent filings and other little leaks which help us weave a tapestry of partial understanding of what Apple's future might look like.

These six choices show us that science fiction isn't science fiction any more -- science fiction is here:

Never forget a face

Apple has acquired Polar Rose according to a report emanating from a Swedish website (via 9to5Mac). Polar Rose makes an extremely sophisticated facial recognition solution (Recognizr).

The Recognizr app just needs to be pointed at a person to pull up details about them from Facebook, Google, Twitter, MySpace or YouTube and others.

Polar Rose's flagship product is the FaceCloud server platform, the FaceLib mobile face recognition library (available for Android and iPhone) and FaceCore the company's "core face detection and recognition module for deep integration and other use-cases.

Other solutions include a full web-based photo-sharing system, a mobile photo browser, photo event creation and more.

These are sophisticated technologies, which include the ability to track faces in video. This could be hugely useful to movie makers and editors, so you can anticipate such a feature might in future make an appearance across Apple products, from the iPhone to Final Cut Studio and iMovie.

TV Times

Also this week we learn Apple has licensed technologies from Rovi (once known as Macrovision). Rovi is best known for its work delivering show guide solutions for cable and online TV outlets, suggesting Apple may have some form of plan to make it easier for TV watchers (on whatever iDevice) to keep up-to-date with current programming.

Less widely-reported is Rovi's work on digital rights management systems. The Cotton Club was the first video to be encoded with Macrovision technology when it was released in 1985.

Rovi still provides digital copy protection software, software which is already trusted by some of the larger TV show outlets.

That's the element I think could be an essential link to Apple achieving the permissions it needs from TV studios to offer their shows on a subscription/rental basis -- the capacity to prevent lost sales through unauthorized copying.

It is clear Apple's setting the scene for its new video everywhere service, making shows available to iOS devices while enabling those devices to output the shows from those devices to third party televisions and home entertainment systems using AirPlay, or to the Apple TV.

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster thinks the Rovi deal proves his long-held belief Apple intends producing its own series of iTunes-savvy connected televisions.

"We believe this announcement is further evidence that Apple is developing live TV and DVR features for its Apple TV product, and will likely launch an all-in-one Apple Television in the next 2-4 years," he said.

Above: Michael Papish of Rovi discusses what the company is doing at IBC 2010 (video is a little noisy, sorry).

Thinner, lighter, stronger

Apple has recently-licensed an advanced alloy technology from Liquidmetal.

Liquidmetal produce a metal alloy that's both harder than titanium but can also be molded like a plastic to create shapes which are lighter and less brittle than objects made of metal.

It isn't hard to imagine Apple's Unibody (now a universal approach to most Apple products) cases being made from the new material, offering as it does weight and durability improvements.

The additional strength of the alloy also means Apple can look to creating ever-thinner products.

Apple is recruiting experts to manage integration of Liquidmetal tech within future products. Potential employees are being warned they'll hold a high-profile position in the company, suggesting a wide implementation of the new alloys across multiple AAPL product families.

ARM's race

Apple gets a lot out of its new relationship with Intel. Not only does it get processors to power its Macs, but it also gets to benefit from the intense competition between chip maker's in the booming mobile space. Unfortunately (for Intel) this means Apple chose ARM for its mobile processors.

There's several reasons for this, of course: it is good practice to get components from multiple sources; more importantly, Intel's Artom mobile platform, while good in some ways doesn't offer Apple the one thing it loves to use to stand out among its competitors -- the chance to differentiate and customize.

That's because ARM don't make the processors, just the reference designs, and chip licensees (such as Apple) are free to use those licensed IPs as a base for their own development.

In this case, Apple's development yielded up the A4 processor, an ARM-based chip that's manufactured for use in the iPhone 4, iPod touch, iPad and Apple TV. (Made by Samsung, which uses a variant of the same base ARM tech for its own tablet and phone, the Galaxy series).

The A4 chip uses a customized version of the ARM A8 processor, but in future Apple seems likely to move to use the ARM Cortex-A9 processor as a base. Available as multi- or single-core chips, this is capable (theoretically) of speeds approaching 2GHz.

All things being equal, the A9 promises a "25 percent processing power boost, even at same processor speed, from the use of a new instruction pipelining system."

Security guard

Apple's recent hiring of near field communications (NFC) expert Benjamin Vigier lends further weight to expectation the company intends developing mobile payment and other systems for iOS devices.

In among the patent filings related to Apple's work in this area we learn that it is working to build touch-based fingerprint recognition technologies.

The acquisition of Polar Rose could suggest some facial recognition security layers too, that's on top of all various more widely-seen protections, such as passwords and more.

TechCrunch recently claimed Apple has already built NFC-enabled iPhone prototypes using hardware from NXP Semiconductor and is testing these technologies for use with future iPhones.

There's more on this here. Video above details work in this area from Square.

Siri is business

Notice how quiet Apple has been about things like mapping and augmented reality? That's particularly interesting when you recall that among the company's continued spate of investments you'll find rumored purchase of mapping firm, Placebase, and the acquisition of Siri. Siri, of course, developed a personal assistant app for the iPhone.

Purchased in April, Siri's software let iPhone users speak a service or activity they wanted to engage in and Siri would find local businesses and centers to serve the request.

That's going to end up becoming an essential technology tagged onto Apple's own future implementation of some form of mapping technology.

This is going to link up with iAds data. This could potentially enable small local businesses to field ads within the Apple device universe, and could even include ticketing and voucher service deals utilizing location-based technologies and NFC/RFID systems.

The challenge here will be implementing such a solution. I'd hate it if I got innundated with on-screen offers as I marched around my city, but can imagine that if I were able to invoke a local businesses, or local offers tab (or app) when I chose to do so that could be a less invasive iteration.

It is certainly possible to imagine other implementations.

Video star

I talked about this just last week, so there's no sense in too much repetition. In essence I see Facetime chat technology being made available for Macs using the built-in iSight camera, and also rolled out for devices from other manufacturers.

Coupled with face-recognition technology described above and wide integration with social networking services, FaceTime could become your key input device to update statuses on Facebook or MySpace, or, once the service makes the inevitable move to support them, filmed video updates broadcast on Twitter.

Surely video updates are already on Twitter's future product road-map?

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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