Your iPhone could one day switch to vibrate mode, adjust its own volume, and wake from sleep mode without you lifting a finger.
A patent application published today by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office suggests a phone or other device empowered with "situational awareness." Dubbed "Electronic device with automatic mode switching," the filing describes ways that the device can automatically perform certain tasks based on different conditions.
Filed in September 2011, the Apple patent application lays out the technology for a variety of devices, including mobile phones and media players. Using such embedded sensors, a device could detect external noises, temperatures, lighting conditions, and time of day, and then react accordingly.
For example, a device could automatically lower its ring volume based on what time you go to bed. It could adjust its own backlight based on the surrounding light. It could even turn your music on or off based on simple vibrations -- your songs start playing when you're on the treadmill and stop when you come off.
"The electronic device is ready to perform the anticipated function without input from the user by using sensors to sense environmental attributes," the patent filing explained. "The sensors can include an ambient light sensor, a force sensor, a temperature sensor, an ambient noise sensor, and a motion sensor."
To perform its tricks, the device would rely on so-dubbed truth tables for each individual sensor. Such tables are used by electronic devices to determine which action to take based on a certain set of conditions.
"The present invention relates to an intuitive portable electronic device that anticipates or predicts a user's desires on how they would like use the portable electronic device," according to the patent filing. "The portable electronic device is therefore ready to perform a user function when the user desires to perform the function. The user does not have to perform additional steps such as selecting menu options in a GUI or activating a button or switch."
As always, a patent filing doesn't mean the invention will ever see the light of day, even assuming it gets approved. But if it does become reality, such technology would certainly make our smartphones a lot smarter.