Apple Patents A Smart To-Do List That Uses Contextual Information From Your iPhone To Fill The Gaps

An Apple patent filing published by the USPTO and spotted by AppleInsider on Thursday describes a task manager that goes well beyond the standard Reminders app that is now built in to iOS and Mac devices. The patent describes a smart to-do list that combines natural language processing for easy text entry, with contextual information sourced from your device to fill in all the little details that you might omit in making a casual task entry. It’s a little bit like Google Now in the way it actively seeks information from the device, but with the specific aim of turning a lightweight reminders app into a much more powerful and intelligent getting-things-done tool, without any additional complexity required on the user’s part.

The use case is simple: A user quickly enters a task into their phone such as “send him an email,” because they think at the time it’ll be enough to trigger a memory about all the other important details. But as we all know, what we think we remember one moment doesn’t turn out to be what we actually do remember later. Apple’s patent application addresses this by having the phone look for supporting information, including recently read and opened emails, recent voice messages or calls, text messages and more to determine who the user is talking about, and potentially even when might be a better time to call, depending on calendar information. It could fill in details in this way for all kinds of different tasks, including “attend meeting later,” “catch flight at 8 PM,” and many more.

Apple accounts for both spoken and text entry of tasks, and actually it’s surprising how much this resembles Fantastical’s vision of how calendar management should be handled on iPhone, with the added benefit that an Apple system-level process would have access to everything stored on the phone, potentially making its powers of deduction much stronger in terms of making educated guesses.

The system would also be able to group and trigger task and notifications based on cues, so that an item like “pick up eggs” would automatically be set to be triggered when near a grocery store, and would live in a sub-category of tasks that acts as a grocery list. Notifications could also be triggered by more than just location and time – one example provided is “Remind me to call my mom the next time I am on the phone,” or “Remind me before sunset this evening.”

Some of these types of features are already being used and improved upon by Google in its rival Android mobile OS via Google Now, but Apple’s patent is also a natural extension of what it has already been trying to do with Siri, Passbook and Reminders in terms of making the iPhone more into a comprehensive personal digital assistant.