Patent report: one-handed iPhone operation, crowd sourcing info, more

Apple files for — and is granted — lots of patents by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Many are for inventions that never see the light of day. However, you never can tell which ones will materialize in a real product, so here are this week’s patent highlights: 

Apple wants to make it easier to use your iPhone and iPad (well, probably just an iPad mini) with one hand. The company has applied for a patent (number 20160070466) for “user interfaces for improving single-handed operation of devices.”


In the patent filing, Apple notes that portable devices get increasingly more compact. The compactness of portable electronic devices allowed for ease of stowage of the devices. However, as the types of content capable of being displayed on the portable electronic devices increase, the small display screens of the devices make it increasingly more difficult for users to consume the content on the devices. As a result, portable electronic devices are now becoming larger to allow users to more easily consume content via the larger display screens. 

However, the larger display screens of portable electronic devices make it more difficult for users to operate the devices with a single hand. For example, in order to reach user interface elements of applications executing on a portable electronic device with a large display screen, a user either has to switch to two-handed operation of the device or the user must reposition the device in the user's hand. Apple says the large display screens of current portable electronic devices make single-handed operation of the devices awkward and uncomfortable to users. 

Its invention involves a mode of applications designed to improve single-handed operation of the devices. For example, an “ergonomic mode” of an app might display a graphical user interface (GUI) of the application in a bottom area of the display screen of the iPhone. By displaying the GUI in the bottom area of the display screen, the user can more easily interact with any user interface objects of the application that were previously unreachable without the user switching to two handed operation of the device or repositioning the electronic device in the user's hand, according to Apple.

Apple has been granted a patent (number 9,280,610) for “crowd sourcing information to fulfill user requests.” According to the invention, an user request is received from a mobile client device such as an iPhone or iPad. The request includes at least a speech input and seeks an informational answer or performance of a task. 

If there’s no satisfactory response to the user request, relevant info is crowd-sourced by querying one or more crowd sourcing information sources. One or more answers are received from the crowd sourcing information sources, and the response to the user request is generated based on at least one of the one or more answers received from the one or more crowd sourcing information sources.

In the patent filing, Apple notes that, just like human personal assistants, digital assistants or virtual assistants such as the company’s Siri can perform requested tasks and provide requested advice, information, or services. An assistant's ability to fulfill a user's request is dependent on the assistant's correct comprehension of the request or instructions.

Apple says the ability of a digital assistant system to produce satisfactory responses to user requests depends on the natural language processing, knowledge base, and artificial intelligence implemented by the system. At any time, a digital assistant may be limited by its particular implementation, however sophisticated that implementation may be, and fail to produce a satisfactory response to a user's request. Apple says that a “well-designed response procedure in such a situation can improve a user's experience in interacting with the system and prevent the user's loss of confidence in the system's service.”

Apple has applied for a patent (number 9,282,653) for “enhanced glass impact durability through the application of thin films.” It’s designed to make iPhones and iPads more durable and less susceptible to cracks and breaks.

According to the invention, the coatings are typically thin coatings, such as thin film coatings. They can serve to increase strength of the glass components and/or provide durable user interfacing surfaces. “Accordingly, glass articles that have received coatings are able to be not only thin but also sufficiently strong so as to resist damage from impact events,” says Apple.

Apple has also applied for a patent (number 20160071392) dubbed “care event detection and alerts” that could turn the Apple Watch into a full-fledged health and emergency care device. A “care event” is any event for which a user may need care. 

Care events may include a car crash, a bike accident, a medical emergency such as a heart attack or an aneurysm, separation of a child from the child's caregiver, a dementia patient becoming lost, an avalanche, a fall, a mugging, a fire, and/or any other event for which a user may require medical, police, family, fire rescue, and/or other kind of assistance. In order for the user to receive care for such a care event, one or more individuals or entities who provide such care (such as friends, family, firefighters, ambulances, hospitals, police, and so on) may need to be alerted to the fact that the care event has occurred. 

Often, the user may contact such individuals or entities upon the occurrence of the event. For example, a user who has been in a car crash may telephone emergency services for an ambulance. However, in many cases the user may be incapacitated and/or otherwise unable to initiate communications regarding the care event. 

According to the invention, an occurrence of one or more care events is detected by an electronic device (the Apple Watch) monitoring environmental data and/or user data from one or more sensors. The smartwatch transmits one or more alerts regarding the detected occurrence to at least one other electronic device (say, an iPhone). In some cases, the Apple Watch may cooperate with at least one other electronic device in monitoring, detecting, and/or transmitting. 

For example, the smartwatch may detect the occurrence based on sensor data received from a cooperative electronic device or such data in combination with the electronic device's sensor data. Or it may detect the occurrence and signal a cooperative electronic device to transmit one or more alerts.