iPhone to Become SOS Beacon, Game Controller

A future iPhone could call for help even if the owner is unconscious
A future iPhone could call for help even if the owner is unconscious.

Apple is working on a series of dramatic enhancements to mobile devices running iOS, including the ability to turn iDevices into emergency beacons that can call for help automatically if the owner is injured, as well as a series of tweaks to make it easier for owners to connect and control other networks or devices.

The most complex of the applications posted by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office this week is the emergency-response function, which the patent application calls the “Mobile Emergency Attack and Failsafe Detection.” The feature would add a sophisticated layer of situational awareness and response to iOS devices by taking advantage of the emergency-mode processor Apple patented in 2009, according to stories posted by the site PatentlyApple.

Apple’s emergency-mode processor is designed to make calls for emergency help more effective by shutting down non-essential processes to save power, display “emergency-phrase” buttons on the phone for users who need help but can’t speak, and keeping an emergency 911 call connection live until help arrives or the user cuts the connection on purpose.

The new features go further by recognizing when an emergency actually occurs – based on sudden shocks detected by the accelerometer – and placing itself in “attack detection mode.” If a user stops interacting with the device after it has detected an attack, the device automatically calls emergency services for help, according to the text of Apple’s patent application, which is credited to Robert D. Butler and was originally filed in September 2012.

After placing the call, if the user still hasn’t reacted, the iDevice could sound an alarm at full volume even if it has been set on silent mode. The system could also use the accelerometer and GPS data to identify changes of speed that could indicate an auto accident, and may allow users to set thresholds for the shock that would identify an emergency and some of the responses, including how difficult it would be to disarm the phone once it put itself in attack mode.

Most of the other Apple patents focus on convenience, including a system designed to let users pair two devices or log in to a secured wireless device using fingerprints or other biometric data.

Adding biometrics to the pairing of two devices to transfer files or configurations among them adds a layer of security with a minimum of fuss, according to PatentlyApple. Biometric security would work on either Bluetooth, WiFi or other wireless connections, and eventually may include retinal prints, facial images, voice signatures or other methods, stated the patent application.

Adding fingerprint recognition to the iPhone 5S in late 2013 lit a fire under the market for fingerprint-enabled smartphones, according to a November 2013 market research report from IHS, Inc., which predicts the number of non-contact, fingerprint-enabled phones sold will grow from 4.5 million units in 2012 to 525 million by the end of 2017. “Now that Apple has shown the way, competitors are in a race to enter the market with similar systems, propelling rapid growth in the coming years,” wrote IHS analyst Marwan Boustany in the report.

Another no-touch wireless login system, also in Apple’s patent pipeline, may prove less popular. “Wi-Fi Credential Sharing using Images” is designed to make it easier for users to log in to unfamiliar wireless networks in coffee shops or other public places by shooting a picture of a QR code, bar code or other indicator, from which it would automatically extract the network name, passcode or other necessary data.

The system could also enable WiFi, tell the iDevice to connect, and complete any other needed steps to complete the authentication, according to the patent application, thereby allowing coffee-shop owners to password-protect their networks without forcing users to go through a login rigamarole for visits that might be very brief.

“Content Presentation and Interaction Across Multiple Displays” doesn’t sound particularly user-friendly, but is actually a system designed to let touchscreen iDevices become remote controls or game-controllers for secondary displays connected to a phone, TVs or other devices displaying streaming media using Apple’s AirPlay service, according to PatentlyApple. The function would extend the graphics of an iPad or iPhone, so the display on the mobile device could show game or movie controls that don’t appear on the larger monitor, as they would if the second display simply mirrored the original.

The function is designed to make AirPlay interactive, and iDevices more effective as the control hub for several devices, each of which may be running a different application or stream of content from that on the mobile device.

There’s no telling when or if the features will appear in iOS, though it’s likely the emergency robo-beacon function would take longer to implement and de-bug than most of the others. Some (or all) of the rest are likely to show up in the next major revision of iOS or when the iPhone 6 ships, which Apple watchers expect will be sometime during the first half of 2014.

 

Image: Shutterstock.com/alexmillos

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