Patent War: Google and Apple Vying for Context-Aware Smartphone Dominance

New patent applications from rivals Google and Apple show that the companies are swiftly moving to occupy the same smartphone application arena—one in which your phone adapts to your surroundings and personal routines.

Back in April, Apple submitted a couple of patents to the USPTO the centered on how a smartphone—that'll be the iPhone—can actually detect what the user is up to, and dynamically adapt itself to respond to the situation. It's a logical extension of current smartphone tech: For now the iPhone's UI is a bit "dead" and stays pretty fixed with the exception of new mail alerts, and the soon-to-arrive push notifications. Since the device is basically a mini computer that's stuffed with environmental sensors, combining their inputs and processing it to determine what the user's doing should be simple. 

Apple patent

Apple highlights safety in the patent, noting that "One problem with existing portable media devices such as cellular telephones is that users can become distracted from other activities while interfacing with the media device's video display, graphical user interface (GUI), and/or keypad." The chosen example was a runner, out exercising and trying to make a call on his iPhone at the same time. Apple suggests the iPhone could detect its user is running, and respond dynamically, by increasing the size of the contacts display to make it easier to quick-dial, for example. The patent also describes the phone switching from listening to on-screen commands to operating on a more gesture-based control system, with tricks like bezel-grip detection to prevent accidental use.

There are a thousand ways this sort of awareness could improve how users interface with their iPhone. And maybe that's why Google's just filed a patent application that explores pretty much the same solution space.

Google patentIn Google's model, the smartphone—Android-powered, obviously—would use the accelerometer and other sensors to build profiles of how the user behaves. It would then re-jig its user-interface to tailor which options are offered up to you. It could detect you've woken up, gone for a run or hopped on a train and then modify what icons you see on the homepage, launch the music player, or even switch the ringer to silent on the train, for example. Neat, and potentially very powerful, if it's clever enough to get your routine right and adjust when you break with a pattern. 

But it's pretty close to Apple's patent—particularly if you combine it with a previous routine-sensing Apple patent for navigation purposes. It's plain to see what this means. Google is definitely gunning for the iPhone's spot at the top of the smartphone game, and this preemptive patent would help protect its options.

[via Unwiredview, MacRumors]

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