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How Apple plans to make sure your iPhone never goes off in a movie theater again

Published Jul 3rd, 2014 6:15PM EDT
Apple iPhone patent: settings and profiles change based on location

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A couple years ago during a performance at the New York Philharmonic, an iPhone alarm interrupted a performance of Mahler’s 9th Symphony, prompting the conductor to stop the performance. The culprit said his iPhone had been set to mute, but the iPhone overrode this switch for a preset alarm that its own said he didn’t even know about. 

At the time, Apple received a fair amount of criticism for the mute switch’s confusing behavior. However, this all could have been avoided if the iPhone had a better sense of where the user was. If the culprit’s iPhone knew he was at a concert, it could have been smart enough to not sound the alarm. This is what developer Craig Hockenberry suggested at the time, and it is an idea Apple just patented today.

First noted by AppleInsider, Apple was awarded a patent Thursday that allows iPhones to change device security levels, configurations, and settings based on the device’s location. For example, an iPhone could recognize when you are in a public place and require that you use Touch ID. Or it could recognize when you are at home and prompt you for your AppleID password less often.

With the patent, the iPhone would determine location using a combination of either GPS, Wi-Fi network locaion data, and possibly even the location of nearby cellphones (presumably using iBeacons). The iPhone would then determine how “confident” it is that it correctly knows your location and change settings once it reaches a certain threshold of confidence.

In addition to changing security features, the patent also describes changing user profiles depending on location. For example, if the iPhone knows that you are driving, it could disable certain features and make it easier to call 911. Or if you’re at work, it could make productivity apps more prominent, and while at home, it could make games and entertainment apps more prominent.

Who knows if this patent will eventually make it into a future version of iOS, but it certainly could be helpful and likely would have prevented the iPhone alarm from interrupting the concert.