Apple Patents Situational Awareness And Location Information Sharing For Mobile Devices

Apple was issued a couple of interesting new patents today (spotted by AppleInsider), including one that could make an iPhone aware of changes in a user’s situation, and alter phone settings accordingly. That would make for a mobile phone that might be able to automatically switch to silent mode when in a movie theatre, for instance, or which could wake from sleep upon being pulled out of a pocket.

The patent was originally designed to apply to iPod devices way back in the days of the click wheel controller, but it has been amended to account for wireless mobile devices like the iPhone. The whole point of the invention is to limit GUI requirements for certain functions, and to instead use a device’s sensors, combined with a “situational awareness module” to trigger changes to things like audio settings, music playback and more.

It’s a tech that sounds like it could easily go wrong; you obviously wouldn’t want your iPhone screen locking when a set of conditions are met that, while similar to another situation, actually isn’t the same one. But you can also see the advantages: Already, Siri can be set to activate when you bring the iPhone to your head. Imagine if other functions, like composing an email, could be auto-triggered via similar functions, like gripping the phone with two hands horizontally as if to begin typing. And an auto-lock function when you slide your phone into a pocket would actually add a lot of convenience in the aggregate, even if it seems like a small thing at first.

Another patent issued to Apple today by the USPTO describes a way for iPhones to share their location data with secondary, external devices, or vice versa. The system could be used in tandem with a standalone GPS module to help your Wi-Fi-only iPod touch become a fully functional navigation device when you get into a car, for instance. But the more interesting potential behind this patent lies in how it might be applied to an iWatch.

The patent describes a method for two-way communication between a handset and an accessory, which is capable of transmitting location data from one to the other. In its most basic iteration, it beams GPS info from an iPhone, for example, to a larger display, which can output the map visuals based on data received. That could allow your iPhone to wirelessly (or via wired connection, as both methods are described) relay navigation info to an in-car entertainment system, for example.

It could also be very useful in making an iWatch design location-aware even without building internal sensors into such a device. Apple doesn’t make mention of this type of implementation specifically in the patent granted today, which was granted in 2009, but it’s no great leap to imagine its benefit in that context. If an iWatch is already tethering to an iPhone for cellular data and other info, then it just makes sense to add in location information. Wrist-mounted maps for walking navigation sounds like it would be a very useful feature.

Neither of these patents seem too far-fetched to rule out inclusion in future devices, and in fact I’d say it’s likely we’ll see something along the lines of Apple offering up location data to thin clients in external devices, because that really goes a long way towards unlocking the value of mobile devices and broadening the appeal of an iOS hardware ecosystem.