Apple's Newest Patent Allows Devices To Perform Functions Before You Tell Them

By James Geddes , Feb 28, 2013 03:37 PM EST

If there's one thing Apple loves almost as much as the gadgets it releases, it's the patents it receives for its innovations. The company's latest patent is for a "situational awareness module". The technology outlined in the patent would allow future Apple devices, including iPads, iPhones, iPod touch and the rumored iWatch to be capable of "anticipating a user's needs" through sensors built into the device. The automated system would anticipate a user's needs based on environment.

The sensors would detect the device's environment based on temperature, touch, force, pressure, noise, vibration, orientation, time and more, to predict what the user of the device is going to do next. The information from the sensors would then be sent to the "situational awareness module" which would instruct the device to automatically perform certain actions on what it believes the user might need next.

The patent's description reads: "The portable electronic device is therefore ready to perform a user function when the user desires to perform the function. The user does not have to perform additional steps such as selecting menu options in a GUI or activating a button or switch."

A few examples of how this would work would be an iPhone automatically turning on by detecting ambient lighting via its sensor. Another example is that the device would be aware of its location and automatically switch the ringer to vibrate if it believes the user is in an area where the user would normally switch the iPhone to silent mode. If a user is in a noisy environment, the sensor would increase the user's ringtone and increase the volume when the user makes or receives a phone call. This technology would enable future Apple devices to perform endless tasks on an anticipatory basis.

Apple has been using sensors in many of its devices over the last couple of years. Of course, the first device to really take advantage of sensors was the original iPhone, which sent commands based on how the iPhone was being held and also by being able to detect ambient light. If the iPhone was held to the user's ear, its sensor would send a command to turn off the iPhone's display. When the user held the iPhone horizontally, in the iPod app for instance, the user would be presented with the Cover Flow UI, or if in Safari it would allow the user to surf the Web in a wide-screen mode.

It's not clear when Apple will begin using this technology in its devices but it's clear that by having this patent, its rivals better not infringe on it. Just ask Samsung how seriously Apple takes its patents.

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