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Tuesday, April 23, 2013, 02:17 am PT (05:17 am ET)

Apple invention creates a secure device-to-device network with just a picture

Apple on Tuesday was granted patent rights to a novel data transfer invention that allows one device to use its built-in camera to take a picture of a second device, and extract a digital handshake key from the image to setup a secure connection.

Digital Handshake

Source: USPTO


The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published Apple's U.S. Patent No. 8,429,407 for "Digital handshake between devices," which covers the creation of a secure communications path between two devices by using an image to generate a digital handshake key.

As noted in the patent, modern portable devices like the iPhone can store a wealth of digital content, such as contacts, text documents, video, music, and more. Currently, most users rely on email or direct messaging to transfer said content from one device to another, with copy and paste being an effective, yet tedious, mode of storage.

Other implementations can facilitate a direct communications path between the two devices, leveraging wireless technologies such as Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to transfer data. However, these methods require the handsets to share a network key, and existing implementations of generating this passkey are limited. For example, in some instances users must generate and type in an identical pass phrase to gain access to another device's content.

Digital Handshake


While a few apps, such as Bump, facilitate key generation when two devices output similar accelerometer data, such as a "bump," the method may not be viable if one device is without a motion sensor.

Apple's invention instead provides that an image taken of a device will include a key. For example, the second device can display a dynamic key onscreen or have a key embedded in its housing or bezel. Other examples are provided where filters, flash or infrared light can reveal a hidden key. In some cases, a specialized chip is integrated with the camera module to detect and decipher a device key.

Digital Handshake

Illustration of chassis-located keys.


A process follows that generates a digital handshake key by using the device-provided key or seed with the key captured in the image. This process can support multiple devices, with more dynamically added by using the same initially generated key. For added protection, a device can require a user-generated code to connect.

Further, if there are multiple devices in a captured image, a device can intelligently parse out which is requesting a key through location, distance and content displayed onscreen.

Digital Handshake


Once the two devices are connected, they can share content based on an open program, or an app that is not running. The patent holds that some or all of the content being displayed can be transferred, depending on user preference.

The language notes that in some embodiments, the digital handshake can merely serve as an authentication system, granting a device access to secured information. An example is provided in which a user's identity can be confirmed when purchasing goods, such as prescription medication.

Apple's camera-based digital handshake patent was first filed for in 2010 and credits Marcel Van Os and Caroline Cranfill as its inventors.