Dec 302011

On the last patent application day of the year, the USPTO revealed a real treat for us.

It appears that Apple has added yet another dynamic new chapter to their ongoing smart bezel project; a project that has the potential of taking Apple’s iDevices to the next level. It could, without a doubt, revolutionize Apple’s entire tablet-based line-up in the blink of an eye. The idea revealed in today’s patent application is to advance iOS devices with a new live interface that is referred to as the Multi-Modal Human Interface. The new user interface is powered by a new engine that is able to detect environmental conditions and change the operational interactivity options for users so as to maximize the iDevice’s usefulness – automatically. It’s also designed to reduce power drainage so that devices could be up and running longer. One example provided for in Apple’s documentation is an iPad shutting down the standard iOS UI automatically in favor of one that is driven by a voice and speech recognition UI while the user is driving. This is certainly another natural avenue for Apple’s Siri. Yet, in the big picture, the smart bezel project is all about advancing the usability of future iOS devices on multiple levels. It’s a project that demonstrates that Apple’s leadership in all-things-tablets is based on driving the boundaries of true innovation to market and in the faces of their never ending competition. And on that note, I say Cheers to the Crazy Ones of Cupertino!       

Apple’s Patent Background

Apple’s invention background points to the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch having to have a lightweight battery yet have enough power to use the device and store information. In order to maximize an amount of time that an iOS device could operate while powered by the battery, the power consumption of the iOS device must be optimized for current operating conditions.

Depending upon the display technology, the display could consume a substantial amount of power when active. This is especially true of transmissive type displays (such as liquid crystal display, or LCD) that require an illumination source (also referred to as a backlight) that have a particularly high power demand. However, LCDs could be manufactured to be lightweight and thin, making them eminently well suited for use in small form factor portable electronic devices in spite of their high power requirements.

Therefore, a system, method, and apparatus for maintaining the ability of a user to interact with an electronic device for longer times are desired.

Apple’s Solution

Apple states that their invention covers small form factor electronic devices that include a processor and an interface engine in communication with the processor and a sensor coupled to the processor. The sensor is arranged to detect at least one environmental factor and pass an indication of the detected environmental factor to the processor.

The processor and the interface engine cooperate to determine if an environment of the electronic device has changed, identify an updated human interface when the environment has changed, and cause the small form factor electronic device to present the updated human interface only if a level of interactivity corresponding to the updated human interface is at least greater than a threshold level of interactivity.

For example, if the electronic device is battery powered and presents visual information using a transmissive type display (that requires backlight illumination), then providing an alternative human interface that relies upon enhancing the presentation of the visual content by increasing the amount of light (and therefore power) provided by the backlight in an environment of high ambient light (such as sunlight) is counterproductive to the maintenance of a long battery life.

Shifting to Non-Visual Modes to Preserve Battery Life

Accordingly, the alternative human interface in the bright sunlight scenario should rely on mechanisms other than increasing the backlight in part or in whole to maintain the minimum level of interactivity as well as the useful life of the battery. For example, the alternative human interface in a bright light environment could rely upon non-visual interface modes such as a haptic interface mode, an audio interface mode, an inertial interface mode, and so on used singly or in combination.

Apple’s introduces us to the Multi-Modal Human Interface (MMHI)

Apple states that it should be noted that the environmental factors considered when determining an appropriate alternative human interface could include those external to the electronic device such as ambient light, ambient sound, and context of use. The environmental factor considered could also include those internal to the electronic device such as battery level and display technology. The embodiments described are particularly well suited for small form factor battery powered electronic devices having a display and could be implemented automatically based upon the detection of specific environmental factors at predefined levels.

In a particular embodiment, the alternative human interface could take the form of a multi-modal human interface (MMHI) provided by an MMHI engine. The MMHI engine could provide an updated MMHI arranged to automatically maintain a pre-determined level of interactivity between a user and the electronic device. In addition to maintaining at least the pre-determined level of interactivity, the updated MMHI could preserve selected operational resources, such as battery charge, when the electronic device takes the form of a portable computing device powered by a battery.

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