Blog Post

A Patent Nightmares are Made Of: OS X With Ads

Halloween has come early this year, and I’m not talking about today’s release of Windows 7. Engadget reports (and I find it difficult to share this with you, dear readers, because I know it will cause you discomfort), in April last year, Apple filed a patent application for (shudder) an ad-supported operating system. That’s right. Mac OS X festooned with ads.

The abstract of the patent reads as follows:

Among other disclosures, an operating system presents one or more advertisements to a user and disables one or more functions while the advertisement is being presented. At the end of the advertisement, the operating system again enables the function(s). The advertisement can be visual or audible. The presentation of the advertisement(s) can be made as part of an approach where the user obtains a good or service, such as the operating system, for free or at reduced cost.

Oh Steve, say it ain’t so. Tell us Patent Application 20090265214 is the result of too many late nights in “creative meetings” with your minions at Cupertino. Tell us it’s a misguided concept you’ve since abandoned (and wish had never made it through the red tape, to be filed with the USPTO). To hell with it, you can even tell us you’re just patent trolling, and that’ll still be preferable to the unthinkable, horrifying possibility that you actually took this idea seriously.

What on earth would motivate Apple to consider something like this? It can’t be the competition. The upcoming Chrome OS from Google may well be ad-supported in some manner, but we have to hope it’ll be implemented the same way Google currently injects ads into Gmail. Perhaps Apple explored the possibility of an ad-supported OS as a means for offering cheaper Macs? But the cost of a Macintosh computer is tied closely to its hardware and besides, since when did Apple start searching for ways to deliver cut-price computers? This isn’t Dell (s dell) we’re talking about.

Here’s an extract from the (typically lengthy) patent description:

The operating system is configured to present one or more of the advertisements to users of the computer device. In some implementations, the operating system can disable one or more functions during the presentation of the advertisements and then enable the function(s) in response to the advertisements ending. That is, the operating system can disable some aspect of its operation to prompt the operator to pay attention to the advertisement.

This paints a picture of some twisted low-level hijacking of the OS while ads are played. For example, imagine your pointer suddenly stops responding to mouse movements (or disappears altogether) only to be restored after a commercial or two (for products you don’t want, or simply can’t afford) finish assaulting your senses with bright colors and boisterous music. What makes this worse is that you hit the mute key ages ago, but the OS temporarily turned the sound on again. You know, because you can’t enjoy all the subtly exquisite levels of torment an ad has to offer unless you get the full audio/video experience.

Yep, that’s a cold sweat that just broke out on your brow. Sadly, there’s more of this horror. The patent also describes an OS-provided framework of which third-party applications can take advantage to deliver the same ad-driven pain:

The software platform provides a framework upon which one or more application programs (e.g., programs, services, user interfaces) may be executed. For example, the operating system can disable input to, or output from, one or more of the application programs while the advertisement is being presented.

So imagine, if you can bear to, an ad-supported version of iWorks. You’re writing that essay or juggling multiple documents to prepare that report that was due yesterday. You’re lost in a world of footnotes and references, utterly absorbed in your task when suddenly, boom! — every Pages window freezes. There’s not a blinking carat to be seen anywhere. Then a horrible ad for life insurance starts playing — you know, that one you hate so much that, when it plays on TV, it sends you diving for the remote in a mad dash to hit the mute button. But you’ve already learned that mute won’t help you now.

It plays for 30 skin-crawling seconds. You’re desperately trying to stay focused on your suspended workflow, grinding your teeth as you endure this torment. But then — the horror! — it’s followed by another ad, this time for Microsoft Office (s msft)!

30 more seconds (and severely worn tooth enamel) later, you’re settling back into your document… then boom! It’s time for the OS to hang, because Burger King wants to tell you about its new Windows 7 Whopper

OK. Dry those tears. Have a stiff drink. This isn’t real. I mean, it might have been prototyped (gods forbid) but just because there’s a patent for this ghoulish monster, that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.

Not yet, anyway…

25 Responses to “A Patent Nightmares are Made Of: OS X With Ads”

  1. I love when the trolls come out to play. You “hate Apple” because they filed a patent for something? Seriously?

    They filed a patent many years ago when they first released the multi-colored iMacs for a technology that would change the color of the shell plastic (via LEDs) depending on what you were doing on screen. Did you see that patent get used? No.

    For all we know, they’ve come up with a clever way for software vendors to have demo apps on the Mac that auto-serve ads until they get paid for. Who knows. There could be a ton of things this could be used for.

    As someone already stated though, it’s probably just to prevent Google or MS from using the idea.

  2. Apple won’t even allow stickers on their kit, much less ads in their main OS. This is for Apple TV and the like, not OS X (or OS XI, or whatever). Remember, everyone’s still trying to figure out the digital content distribution, and tv networks might find this model appealing.

  3. The very next article here is about Nokia suing Apple over phone patents. You need to understand that in the horrible patent system the US has, companies are nearly required to do this. It’s like the cold war.. we need to stockpile missiles so you won’t use your missiles. Sure, maybe Apple has plans to deploy this on a media device or in the Apple Stores, but even if they don’t, they need to file every idea anyone has just in case. The only real solution is to severely restrict the scope of what can be patented, or do away with them altogether. This of course is ludicrously improbable given the influence patent holders are able to wield over government.

  4. I think this ad-infested version of OSX will be for PC users that complain about Apple limiting OSX to Apple hardware. Haha! That would be funny. They give you a taste of what could be and if you like it enough and want the full experience, buy a Mac.

  5. Let us hope Steve Jobs is patenting this so no one else can have this horrendous idea with out paying a lot of money to Apple.

    Let us hope, otherwise I’ll become a CPM* fan again.

    * a 70’s operating systems for those not old enough.

  6. spoonbender...

    If, they actually do this, it`s only a matter of time until the ‘rest of us’ figure out a way to hack the system and disable all the crap permanently. It`s not like jailbreaking an iphone is hard to do.

  7. Come on. There’s NO WAY Apple is going to use this in OS X! It may, however, be to protect user of other OS’s… think about how Microsoft would LOVE to make money from pirates. An ad supported OS that disables ads (opt out) once it’s properly licensed would be a fantastic way to deal with pirates (even though they’d probably figure out how to crack that too!).

    Every Mac sold comes with a license to the major version of OS X that it came with, so I seriously doubt it was filed for actual use in OS X. More likely, it was filed for patent trolling purposes or as a way to keep others from trying it.

  8. katiepea

    get ready for it, get an iphone in the dumb publics hands, then we’ll force them to watch our ads. oh apple, i hate you more everyday, once upon a time i was madly in love with you, then you made the iphone, then your marketing turned into something bordering satanic. now, you just appear to be microsoft in a pretty dress. woe is you.

  9. Barry K. Nathan

    This patent isn’t a weapon against Google. It’s a weapon against Microsoft. Am I the only one here who still remembers Microsoft’s ambitions of making Windows and Office ad-supported?

    To refresh everyone’s memory:

    If you google “ad supported microsoft windows”, you’ll see that MS doesn’t have ad-supported Windows yet, but that the ad-supported version of Office 2010 will replace Microsoft Works. So, MS is slowly but surely moving forward with its plans.

  10. RealNeil

    ‘Add supported OS’ is a terrible idea that will never get off the ground. Linux is already free without ads and works fantastically.
    I wouldn’t even consider this idea. Even if it came with free “Cool Apple” trendy hardware.

  11. Nuno Campos

    Are we all short-minded or what?

    What difference would it make to existing users?
    None. The point here would be to have, beyond the current offer – which wouldn’t see a change – a cheaper or free version of the software they would decide to apply it to.

    You pay less (or nothing at all) and you get something that compensates Apple for that.

    You pay what you now do and, guess what, nothing changes.

  12. Instead of drumming up senseless fears of a terrible desktop experience, why not explore other reasons Apple might file this patent?

    Media center devices (sounds like it’s describing a Hulu-esque experience), or blocking competitors (like Chrome) are two easy ones?

  13. they may have filed this patent as a plan b (or plan z, even) backstop, but really, why would apple, at this point, ever need to do this? they are one of the most cash rich companies around, their consumers & fans seem more than eager to pay top dollar for hardware you can piece together cheaper elsewhere, and they just finished a record quarter of profitability ( unless they think they’re just not making money hand-over-fist fast enough, i don’t see this as anything more as a “first!” in the patent office just in case, and also so they can make an easy buck or two off of anyone else with the same idea by either licensing the patent to them or suing as patent infringement if they try without them.

  14. Seems to me this is more patent lawsuit crap. They come up with an idea and patent it then license the tech to someone else. This idea really doesn’t play well with apples premium brand image.

    • But the idea is that you wouldn’t pay for the OS if it was ad-supported, right? (Or you’d pay significantly less).

      I still dislike the idea, but its not that different from the idea that you get to see a website (or a TV show) for free as long as you’re willing to put up with ads.

  15. Perhaps Apple is going to start enforcing OS X licenses (a bit like Windows Genuine Advantage) and penalise freetards with adds?

    If not, I can’t see very many people installing it – even if it were free.