Apple has been granted a patent (number 9,652,134) for “avatars reflecting user states.” An avatar is an icon or figure representing a particular person in video games, Internet forums, etc. The patent could mean more responsive, interactive avatars in apps such as Messages and Mail.
In the patent filing, Apple notes that avatars are increasingly used in online social networking, gaming, and other communications, typically as a surrogate for an actual photograph of the user. They offer a measure of privacy, while allowing the users to have control over their online identities.
As a means for self-expression, many users customize their own avatars to show physical characteristics that reflect the actual appearances of the users. The users can also dress up their avatars with accessories and clothing items that reflect the users' individual styles and fashion tastes.
When a user interacts with others in various communication contexts (e.g., in online chat sessions, emails, etc), the user can sometimes enter textual strings or preset emotional icons ("emoticons") in a text message to reflect his or her current emotional state (e.g., happy, angry, sad, etc.) to other users. These emoticons help improve the interpretation of the plain text of the message. Apple wants to take this to the next level.
According to the invention, user states can be defined using trigger events based on user-entered textual data, emoticons, or states of the device being used. For each user state, a customized avatar instance having a facial expression, body language, accessories, clothing items, and/or a presentation scheme reflective of the user state can be generated. When one or more trigger events indicating occurrence of a particular user state are detected on the device, the avatar presented on the device is updated with the customized avatar instance associated with the particular user state.
Of course, 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.