Apple patent filings hint at iPhone evolution

by Marguerite Reardon

Apple could be providing a glimpse into some new features for future iPhones in a couple of patent applications the company recently filed.

The blog MacRumors.com reports that Apple has published two patent applications in the past few weeks that focus on features that incorporate motion and gesture user interfaces. One patent was published two weeks ago. And the other one was published Thursday.

(Credit: United State Patent and Trademark Office, via MacRumors.com)

The iPhone already has an accelerometer that allows users to shuffle songs on the iPhone by shaking it. And the motion-detecting technology has also been widely used by application developers who have incorporated the functionality into games and other kinds of apps for the iPhone. But Apple appears to be moving a few steps further in making motion an even bigger part of interacting with the iPhone.

Apple notes in the first of the patent filings that interacting with mobile devices while also engaging in another activity, such as jogging or running, can be dangerous as users might be distracted while they're trying to advance to another song or answer a phone call. The new gesturing technology would try to solve this issue. According to the patent filing:

There is a need for providing a user interface in a personal media device that minimizes either or both a user's physical and visual interactions with the personal media device, especially while the user is performing other activities that require, for example, the user's visual senses.

Apple has outlined ways in which the iPhone would know whether the person holding it is engaged in activity such as running or whether the device is simply being carried around in a pocket of purse. The idea is that the iPhone would be able to change its interface to accommodate the kind of activity that the user is engaged in. For example, when a user is running, the device might provide an alternative movement-based interface for adjusting the music volume or answering a call.

Aside from the motion-detecting technology, the schematic drawings also show that Apple might be adding videoconferencing to the iPhone, since there is a front-facing camera on the newly sketched device. The first- and second-generation iPhones do not include video recording at all. Video is expected in the next release of the product that is rumored to be coming out this summer.

So what about all these other cool features? Will we be seeing them in this year's version of the iPhone? I wouldn't hold my breath. These features seem pretty advanced and could take a while to develop. Of course, there is also the possibility that these features never make it into a commercial device. Patents are often filed for technologies that never actually make it to market.



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