Trains are awesome. When I lived in San Francisco, commuting down the peninsula every morning via Caltrain was (when on time) a delight compared to my Nashville commute today.
The train cars were this weird microcosm of Silicon Valley tech workers. Young college grads commuting to Palo Alto. Graybeards hopping off in Mountain View or one of the San Jose stops. And middle managers dressed up to look important.
A passenger sitting next to me in 2008 pulled this strange, angled, white slab of plastic with a screen I had never seen before out of their backpack. It was the first time I saw a Kindle in real life.
As a kid who grew up in the suburbs, for forty-five minutes each way, to work and then back home every day, I'd plug my Verizon USB dongle into my Mac, have just enough bandwidth to browse the web, and legit feel like I was living in the future.
Most commutes had a few regulars I'd recognize, but always something or someone new. One day there was a fight that ended in the conductor physically throwing two men off the car. Or the time a woman a row ahead of me began sobbing during an unexpected stop when word reached us that a suicide on the track was the cause of the delay.
But the story I'm reminded of today is the one about the only actual Apple leak I ever personally heard. I hadn't thought of it in years until Jason Snell and Gruber briefly discussed how a hardware rumor could begin from a supply chain leak.
I was commuting home on the train in August 2009. The section of the car I was sitting in was a pod of four seats - two rows of two facing each other. The seat next to me was empty, but across was a young woman and a man probably in his late 30s who very clearly didn't know each other.
It was one of those awkward moments in an otherwise mostly-quiet car where one person will just. not. stop. talking. And this guy was going on and on about the electronics company he worked for and all the patents they had.
I was on my laptop - probably working on some failed app idea. The woman alternated between reading a book and doing anything else to not listen to him.
But what caught my ear was when he started talking about audio processing and microphones. It was something along the lines of...
Yeah, we made a new way to cancel out noise you don't want to hear using extra microphones. In fact, you know what? Apple is using our stuff in the next iPhone. They're gonna put a second mic on the back of the phone to get rid of background noise when you're talking to someone.
It turns out the guy wasn't lying. From Apple's press release the following June announcing iPhone 4:
iPhone 4 features a second microphone and advanced software to suppress unwanted background noise for improved call quality when in loud places.
Like I said above, I hadn't thought about this conversation in years. But a quick search shows that the guy must have worked for Audience - based out of Mountain View - which was my Caltrain station every day.
Audience was the first company to have reverse-engineered the human hearing system and model its processes onto a chip, enabling computers and mobile devices to use the same kind of “auditory intelligence” that humans employ. By using this technology in conjunction with two or more microphones, background noise is suppressed, improving the quality of the remaining voice and reducing distraction for the listener. By using this technology in conjunction with two or more microphones, background noise is suppressed, improving the quality of the remaining voice and reducing distraction for the listener.
So that's my one leak story. It's not as exciting as finding a prototype in a bar, but I did manage to overhear how the new iPhone was going to listen.