Apple was granted a number of patents today, including a couple that could have big implications for its range of mobile devices. One is an oldie but a goody, describing a Wii remote style 3D control mechanism that users sensors to determine its position in space, filed in 2006 (the same year as the Wii itself), and the other is a system for detecting, gathering and providing information about unauthorized users of a person’s iPhone or other mobile device.
The security measures are most interesting, and also most likely to produce some kind of tangible results users will see. Apple says in its patent that it could identify users based on factors like heartbeat via embedded sensors, photographs or voice recordings, combined with things like suspicious behavior. That would trigger a system to begin monitoring said user, taking photos, recording audio and snapping screenshots of behavior, as well as logging keystrokes and keeping a record of Internet usage. For extra security, the device could also be set to lock down/wipe when an unauthorized user takes control. Finally, the info gathered can be sent to the authorized user or authorities to help track down the unauthorized user. Apple also describes a way in which a device can be put into security mode depending on its proximity to another device, linked by NFC.
These security measures would be tricky to get just right – users would have to be careful about how they set them if there’s a high likelihood that their devices will be used by others on a regular basis. But Apple could implement this as yet another extension of its Find My iPhone services, and this would also make a lot of sense in high-sensitivity enterprise settings.
The 3D controller would allow for a screen to use IR, accelerometer and photo detectors to make on-screen objects manipulable through movements of a control device in three-dimensional space. Apple doesn’t mention the iPhone by name in the patent, since it actually predates its existence, but it does suggest that an iPod could eventually become the control device in question. As for applications, this looked like a prime candidate for inclusion in the Apple TV, but nothing using it has been forthcoming from Apple. Might the company still do something with this, after essentially sitting on the idea for six years? I think we’ve moved on to a point where Apple is more interested in Siri-type voice commands, or perhaps gesture based controls, than on the slightly unnatural act of moving a small device around in the air to make something happen on-screen, and it seems to be doing just fine in gaming with its current approach.
Apple is and always has been a ‘patent first, ask questions later’ type of organization, so in general looking for these things to make their way to shipping products is always pretty much a guessing game. But the security features, if done well, continue Apple’s progress with its iOS device user services, and could provide a lot of value to device owners, and could indeed be a welcome step in helping prevent or at least resolve more cases of mobile device theft.