back to article Is Apple nobbling iPhones to avoid more patent misery?

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 …


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  1. Drakkenson

    "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."

    So will we get to the point of buying a phone or other gadget that does nothing out of the box, but cand do all manner of patented crap (like this autocomplete function or maybe one tap to buy) after a bit of tweaking, or applying a patch from the internet?

    Actually, that would promote innovation, wouldn't it?

    1. Annihilator


      You've just described Android..

      I'll get me coat.

    2. MrCheese

      Sounds more like Linux every day

      We're not allow to bundle this but do visit our forum for instructions ;)

      1. Ammaross Danan


        "We're not allow to bundle this but do visit our forum for instructions ;)"

        Things like the Lame MP3 codec for encoding MP3 audio for instance falls into this category. The idea of converting to an MP3 (process and resulting file) are patented, therefore Linux technically can not ship a "free" OS and include such a feature. However, there are groups (such as Lame) that have reverse-engineered how to encode an MP3. These people did not steal the encoding code, nor know before-hand the process to get the job done as patented by the MPEG group. However, just as Apple can manage to patent a device with rounded corners, they can not even give their product away for free, except for "educational purposes." Thus is the state of patent law.

    3. Armando 123

      "So will we get to the point of buying a phone or other gadget that does nothing out of the box, but cand do all manner of patented crap (like this autocomplete function or maybe one tap to buy) after a bit of tweaking, or applying a patch from the internet?"

      Sound like the early days of the internet.

    4. Figgus

      Precedent already set for this

      "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,"

      If memory serves, Rockstar was held responsible for content that was included in GTA4 but that you needed a mod to unlock. The precedent has been set here: you're responsible for what you SHIP, not what people can access right out of the box.

      1. tybalt

        Contributory infringement

        The Rockstar thing was nothing to do with patent infringement IIRC. More about American moral outrage wasn't it?

        In the UK there is something called secondary or contributory infringement: supplying (or offering to supply) means essential to a patented invention when it is known or obvious that the means are intended for putting the invention into effect.

        There is no requirement for the end user to have a settled intention to use the means to infringe at the time of supply, merely that it is obvious that they would be likely to at some point in the future (Grimme v Scott).

  2. uhuznaa


    At least the panorama feature is just not ready -- it totally sucks, in fact. I'd guess that these are features that didn't get finished in time and were inactivated for the release.

    1. alwarming
      Paris Hilton

      That's a more likely explanation...

      ... most products have the so called "hidden" features because creating a separate development branch and keeping it in sync with the "production" is a pain... especially if you are changing

      some shared interfaces.. (so by pushing your code into the production line means that everyone

      else starts using the new interfaces and you don't have to re-merge with incompatible interfaces everytime). Also, those new interfaces go thru 2 years of integration testing, even though most of the

      code related to the new feature is "sleeping" in those tests.

    2. Youngdog

      If you want panoramic shots on iOS...

      ...then look no further than Photosynth

      Don't let the fact that it's from Microsoft put you off - easily the best app of its kind

  3. Chris007

    I don't believe it

    Apple trampling all over somebody elses patents - who'd have thunk it...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Nokia did not so long ago...

    2. N13L5

      This is still the spirit of Jobs, take all, give nothing.

      Its so hilariously backwards:

      1) we won't license our stuff to you, we don't need the money, we want you to get out of the market.

      2) we don't want to license your stuff, cause then we might have to cross license with you, so we'd rather just hide.

      3) it was our greed that undermined us in the fight against wintel, and we'd prefer to do it like that once more, rather than learn anything.

      When you sell your soul to the devil, hell starts creeping in and as soon as the promised success comes, he already comes to get you.

  4. Rob

    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.

    1. tybalt

      Wouldn't work in the UK - that would be contributory infringement.

      And I personally think that Apple are going to lose the Community Designs case against Samsung. The protection afforded by a Community Design Registration is actually relatively narrow. The test is whether the design creates the same overall impression on the informed user. If the Galaxy Tab is a different design (i.e. is easy for the informed user to distinguish from the iPad), it does not infringe. Where design features are influenced by technical considerations, the designer is subject to a degree of design constraint that tends to mean that small differences are enought to escape infringement. The different aspect ratio of the device should be sufficient in itself to create a different impression.

      Since Apple have an interim injunction, they would subsequently have to pay damages to Samsung, which would be pretty significant.

  5. Greg J Preece

    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!

  6. Paul Shirley

    Hiding features just stops you getting caught, you're still liable for patent infringement just fir shipping the feature.

  7. Kristian Walsh Silver badge

    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?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Reason? On El Reg's comment boards?

      I think I need a sit down.

    2. Rob Dobs

      Don't apple keyboards have a delete button?

      wouldn't it be easier (and more correct) to just remove the non working code from the release version? And if its broken, why is it so easy to enable?

      This to me sounds more like yet another fanboi leaping to defend Apple

      OK your theory is plausible enough, but pretty easy to disprove or not.

      Lets see a bunch of people enable it, DOES IT WORK? well then we know the answer.

      If it causes issues then maybe your theory holds water.... if not then we are back to either sneaky patent circumvention, or charging it as a feature upgrade later.

      Honestly to me the later two sound a lot more like Apples typical sneaky behavior.

      1. Annihilator

        @Rob Dobs

        To "remove" non-working code from a major development is entirely non-trivial. There are all manners of shared modules that you have to decide whether to remove or not, and regardless of traceability you would end up re-testing the entire stack. Having the feature disabled will have been a test case already, and so require minimal re-work.

      2. Kristian Walsh Silver badge

        @Rob Dobs

        You can't just remove the parts of code that do something without also changing the component they live in, and when you're close to a code-freeze, the QA department will certainly not thank you for making wholesale alterations to something that had finally reached beta quality.

        QA isn't done on a file-by-file basis, or a class-by-class one either (that's unit testing, and it's the developer's job). The whole component is tested, because the whole component is what users see. If developers suddenly remove a significant volume of code out of a stable component, it becomes a different component, and all previous assumptions about its stability must be thrown out, and a full, exhaustive test performed.

        As a product reaches release, the number of changes between builds should ideally reduce, not increase. That's why you'd leave the code in, but remove its enabling switch, rather than yank it out. Why introduce new bugs now?

        For the record, I have never owned, nor would I ever want to own, an iOS product of any description. I did, however, work for Apple a long time ago as a software developer when they were still a computer company (they're more like a fashion house now), and at that time their software engineering processes were pretty good. I can't imagine that these have disimproved in the intervening ten years.

    3. It'sa Mea... Mario
      Thumb Up

      Re:Kristian Walsh's post 10th November 2011 11:40 GMT

      This is *much* more likely than the main article speculation. Doublely so when you realise that it is available on the Japanese keyboards.

      Just another El Reg click bait piece to attract the fans, the anti-apple rabids and all those of us inbetween that read the iPhone articles.

      1. Rob Dobs

        How so?

        The fact that its available in foreign language by default supports that it was a broken feature...WHAT?

        Sounds like that supports patent circumvention a lot more, as it obviously seems to work OK, just as long as your not using the same language of most US lawywers and Google employees huh?

        Or are you trying to say that Apple has a practice of making sure their product works in Japanese first, and then moves onto fixing it in English..

        Really, like I said before this is a sad example fanbois supporting their religious belief with zeal.

        Think I made pretty valid points and arguments, but its like arguing the bible with zealot Christian fundamentalist... no matter how good an argument you make, you will get downvoted because they don't want to see the truth right in front of them..... I give up your right THIS must be evidence that APPLE does no harm to anyone...... twit

        1. It'sa Mea... Mario

          @Rob Nob

          You posted an opinion and so did I.

          Interesting though that your opinion on how easy it is to remove code has been debunked by two other opinions already.

          "Or are you trying to say that Apple has a practice of making sure their product works in Japanese first, and then moves onto fixing it in English.."

          No I'm not saying that, however there is other evidence that may support the POV that the Japanese have had some 'special treatment' if you feel the need to think of it that way..

          Apple had a keyboard of smilies available to Japan only up until iOS 5 (unless you used an app to unlock it)

  8. Bryan Maguire

    doesnt the iPhone already do autocorrect?

    1. BristolBachelor Gold badge
      Thumb Down

      Yes, it fscking well does, and you CAN'T turn it off, and if you just type in the text you want, it will keep changing it. It doesn't give you the option to change a word to what it thinks; it changes it with an option to change it back to what you typed. Gets on my tits no end; another example of Apple deciding what I want for me, whether it is or not :(

      Generally the IOS UI is pretty good, but IMHO the on-screen keyboard is bloody horrible; even the one on my Nokia 770 which is god knows how old is better.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Settings -> General -> Keyboard -> Auto-Correction -> OFF

        See subject...

  9. AndrueC Silver badge

    I turned off the predictive text on my 'Droid. It'd have been better if the first/default choice was what I'd typed so that I could just carry on with the next word. I seemed to spend all my time have to confirm what I'd type. That was a distraction and potential disaster if I didn't notice the suggestions appear as I typed.

  10. BobTD

    Erm, this is a visible feature if you enable the Japanese keyboards in iOS 5.

    1. Adam T
      Thumb Up

      Well spotted, sir

  11. BoxedSet

    An own goal by Apple, let's not forget who started the whole patent war misery.... ah yes, our fruity friends themselves....

    All this arguing over who invented what UI gesture or feature does nothing to improve things for the end user, they should just get on with making better phones without all this corporate lawyer playground bickering!

  12. Jason Hindle

    Whhich part of "prior art" don't they get?

    My ancient SonyEricsson M600 (still in service as a thing to put my work SIM in) does that.

  13. Grease Monkey Silver badge

    "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."

    If it's there it's still a breach of patent, it matters not whether enabling the feature is documented or not. It's a feature of the software so it will be covered by the patent.

    The question surely has to be, how long before the lawsuit hits?

    1. chr0m4t1c

      >The question surely has to be, how long before the lawsuit hits?

      Probably a very long time indeed - possibly never.

      Given that the current interface already includes word prediction as part of autocorrect and already functions this way for some international keyboards (most notably Chinese).

      All smartphones I've ever seen for the Chinese market deploy a very similar system, they show a traditional Roman alphabet keyboard that the user types Pinyin on. As they type, the phone displays the narrowing list of idiograms in a predictive manor, the user then selects the one they need.

      I guess that if this is covered by a patent, then Apple probably already have a license because iOS has done this since it was available with a Chinese language option. If not, then they're *already* open to lawsuits, but I haven't seen any.

      Yes, yes, Android will take over the world, Apple and Microsoft should just give up and go away now; Google never do anything wrong, etc.

  14. deadlockvictim

    It's full of stars!

    Article» T9, the pioneers of predictive text who used internet searches to establish that those writing "ham" wanted to say "ibm"

    "HAL", surely, not "ham".

  15. Inachu

    cell phones are taking the cue from Nero CD/DVD burning software company.

    Lets just sell the customer a crippled software package that forces them to pay more for what we used to give to them for free!

  16. Arctic fox

    Then perhaps Cupertino could lead the way...........

    "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."

    .................and they could begin by ceasing to be part of the problem even if they do not yet feel ready to be part of the solution (wishing naturally enough to keep their guard up if other major players do not reciprocate). That would be a start, a start that in fact could have a lot of influence for the better - if they chose to. If major players like Apple moved from judicial offence to limited judicial defence where *genuinely* necessary that would at any rate be a beginning.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Rob Dobs

    "wouldn't it be easier (and more correct) to just remove the non working code from the release version?"

    Its obvious you're not a coder.

    Going and pulling out code line by line is at least as dangerous as putting a new feature into existing code Actually, its probably worse: identifying which bits are part of the functionality you want to remove and which are also used by other features, and must be left in place, or worse, altered to still work for those features, whilst not doing yours...Its a massive can of worms, and requires you to send the whole thing back to basic testing for weeks whilst they check every feature that uses anything you touched.

    Compared to removing the on/off switch, which is probably a single line of code, and requires requires only some basic checks (since turning it off has already been tested as part of the on/off testing, theres no need to retest that bit, you just need to test whether the switch has indeed gone away), there's just no comparison, removing the on/off switch is absolutely the way to go.

    Particularly since it seems they didn't have time to even test the switch hiding properly, hence it can be brought back.

    1. Rob Dobs

      I know code well enough

      This is only dangerous if for some strange reason your little app is tied in with the rest of the code in the software. Otherwise any GOOD code could be deleted or commented out very easily without affecting other aspects. If the feature is off, or not there it should have the same affect on other subsystems and routines. These are little 1's and 0's they are guessing at here, its a few command lines, and commented out or deleted, they are NON-FUNCTIONAL either way. They only reason to leave them in would be to either enable it later or avoid patent ire.

      You also ignore that this doesn't at all explain why it CAN be turned on, or is ON by default in foreign languages. If something is broken, you don't leave it, you fix it. Your argument really makes Apples software process sound lazy and subject to serious problems.....oh wait maybe that's why there's so many ways to circumvent Apple security and infect apple machines these days ;-)

      Really wasn't a hater, but boy you fanbois will go to no ends to excuse and justify this companies shitty behavior. hard not to chalk you all up a zealot nuts.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Really wasn't a hater, but boy you fanbois will go to no ends to excuse and justify this companies shitty behavior. hard not to chalk you all up a zealot nuts."

        Do you realise how zealous that reads? Were you deliberately trying to be self-parodying?

      2. Annihilator

        re: I know code well enough

        You know code well enough on an extremely small scale from what you're describing. Deleting or commenting out code just doesn't happen at an enterprise scale without massive consequences. The only thing that is of any concern is this - *you have changed the baseline*. By doing so you've negated all the end user test cases, regardless of how confident you are that you haven't impacted anything outside.

        "This is only dangerous if for some strange reason your little app is tied in with the rest of the code in the software."

        It's not an "app". And yes, it *has* to be intricately tied into the keyboard code, of which there will be shared code and modules across it. You cannot say for certain which pieces you can remove and which you can't.

        For clarity I'm not talking as an Apple hater or lover, they're a company, I really don't get emotionally charged by such things. I'm talking as a former developer, tester and test manager. Change the baseline and I will have no choice but to run the regression packs on everything that the code you've meddled with touched. And consider how many use cases invoke the keyboard on an iPhone - hint, it's most of them. If you merely *disable* the option, I'll have tested that already - it's a valid use case to test against.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Apple have always avoided trampling over other companies patents. It's clear they have been doing this with predictive text (it's crap on iOS). MS also own patents around auto-correct which is why Apple don't do it very well on OSX (improved now I think because the patents have expired). Also Amazon owns the patent for synchronising the currently open page between devices. Which is why Apple, in a very un-Apple like, un- "it just works" kind of way only support the synchronisation of bookmarks between devices in iBooks (e.g. iBooks doesn't synch the currently open page).

    It's Google that has form for showing no respect for others intellectual property (early years of YouTube ownership, Google images etc). Of course it's fair enough to say in current form IP rights are morally wrong. However Google, buying other businesses patent portfolio's and starting to use IP in litigation can't have their cake and eat it.

  19. Anonymous Coward


    I completely misread that and my first reaction was "Those apple dudes really like their hardware..."

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why the hall do people have ducking predictive text enabled anyway? Especially on a device with a (on-screen or physical) keyboard.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    How long until you buy a smartphone and OS seperately

    How long until you buy a smartphone and OS seperately i have to wonder. If samsung et all were to sell phones and the operating system seperatly, indeed give the user the choice of booting android, bada, microsoft, I'm sure alot of issues would disapear. Of course wouldn't be that consumer friendly - who wants to select one of X options upon initialy booting there new toy.

    Personaly I would welcome a feature phone that you could cold boot and be able to access the contacts and make calls in seconds like the old days of mobile phones. Oh how things have moved on. Maybe one day you will be able to do that whilst the rest of the flashing lights loads painlessly in the background on one of the many spare processing cores smartphone have thesedays. Indeed come next year mobile phones will have 4.1 cores or 5 cores if you will and thats more than most desktops, fun times ahead folks, fun times.

    Still as a geek I fully approave of hidden options - even if hidden from patent trolls. So in this matter well played Apple.

  22. Gordon Barret

    Not crippled

    Erm, the device is hardly "crippled" by not enabling this single minor feature.

  23. Walt French

    Pretty Terrible, Indeed!

    Sure sounds awful to me that Apple might have held back on distributing software that they didn't own rights to give away. They should be able to take ANY functionality that Google, or anybody else develops, and capture all the revenues from the extra sales they'd enjoy.

    And why stop there? Laptop and desktop manufacturers should bundle Adobe Creative Suite, Microsoft Office and another few dozen widely popular games, too. Who gives a rat's ass whether software people get compensated for their work? It's all about the user getting “thousands of dollars” of software for the price of a $500 laptop.

    For that matter, why don't firms go out and create TheRegister.Com, hijacking all the Register's content, but inserting their own ads? Who would mourn the Register's loss of their copyright? I take it that this article is essentially greenlighting people to do exactly that — duplicate all of the Register's material, copyrighted or not.

    This will make for a much better world, indeed! Anarchists of the world, unite!

  24. someone up north

    WHAT so steve jobs is a IP thief

    shocking new Steve job stealing others' IP !

    HOW could that happen,

    he is a decent man isn't he?

  25. sisk

    Well well

    Aren't all the fruity fanbois always screaming that Android copied Apple?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      La La La, they're not listening..

      iOS5 notifications look nothing like Android notifications.

      iOS5 speech recongnition is nothing like Android's

      and so on...

      They have selective memory.,

  26. Lallabalalla

    "Crippled"? Bit strong.

    "Changed" maybe.

  27. TheRealRoland

    Our job, Gilbert, is to offer not the words people do use

    But the words they should use...

  28. Yves Kurisaki

    It's hidden because..'s a bit shit. It's not intuitive and it crashes.

  29. Wang N Staines

    Just do 2 builds, 1 for US and the other for the rest of the world. Problem sorted.

    1. Annihilator
      Thumb Down


      You've just doubled my workload, thanks

      Signed, Mr Test Manager

      You've just doubled my workload, thanks

      Signed, Mr Software Config Manager


  30. tekHedd

    This doesn't prove patents are bad, but...

    We quickly accept the possibility that patents could be the reason the feature is unavailable. That in itself is sad. Patents encourage innovation and ensure that more better products are available for us, the end users. Does anybody really believe this?

  31. Neoc


    "in the same way that DVD players are sold locked to one region (as required by the DVD standard) "

    The author must be American. Haven't been able to find a single region-locked DVD player for sale down here in Oz for the last decade or so. And this includes the big companies like Sony.

  32. verity33
    Thumb Down

    It's terrible!

    Has anybody else tried the hidden predictive text dictionary? It is just awful. It comes up with anything BUT the word you're trying to type! Most of the suggestions are words that no one could possibly have a use for. I can't wait to disable it again...

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