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Apple patents situational awareness for oblivious fanbois

Get ready for a sensitive iPhone that responds to your surroundings

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Maintaining an awareness of sensory cues in the vicinity has just been patented by Apple – for portable electronic devices, anyway.

The technology outlined in Apple's new Patent 8,385,039, which the US Patent and Trademark Office granted on Tuesday, would make iPhones, iPads, and a potential iWatch capable of sensing certain cues in the environment and adjusting the devices' performance accordingly. The idea is that the devices could predict or anticipate users' desires, given what's going on around them.

An environmentally-aware mobile device would use sensors to monitor a variety of factors – including temperature, ambient light, motion, vibration, pressure, touch, noise, orientation, and time – and then use the sensory cues to choose one operational mode over another.

The information would feed into a "situational awareness module" in the device that would be able to slip the device into a mode appropriate for the surroundings. In one such scenario, a phone might switch from from a ring mode to a vibrate mode – because it's dark, say, and the phone senses it's in a cinema.

In another scenario, the phone uses sensory cues to chose between one of two playlists. Harsh office lights could fire up the techno playlist, for example, while candlelight triggers up the sexy playlist – you get the gist.

If there's high ambient noise, the phone could automatically increase the volume of its ringtone. Even the tightness with which you grip the iPhone in your sweaty hand could be fed into the device as an input.

The potential to get situational awareness wrong is, of course, large. Humans themselves are not perfect at reading sensory cues. But the move shows Apple's interest in ambient computing, and such technology would certainly be useful in an iWatch. A wrist-mounted device would allow many other factors to be measured and fed into the device's decision-making, such as a user's body temperature and pulse rate.

Or, sensing perhaps that you've fallen asleep, your iWatch could turn the TV off for you – no need for a girlfriend, fanbois. ®

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