Apple patent involves Siri helping with accessibility activation features

Siri, Apple’s personal digital assistant, may one day help you determine why you’re having problems with the accessibility features on an iOS, watchOS, tvOS and perhaps even a macOS device. The company has been granted a patent (number 9,733,821) for “voice control to diagnose inadvertent activation of accessibility features.”

According to the patent, the electronic device in question receives a user input indicating that the user is having difficulty operating the electronic device. The device then determines whether a setting was changed on the device within a predetermined time period prior to receiving the user input. When a first setting was changed within the predetermined time period prior to receiving the user input, the device restores the changed setting to a prior setting.

Accessibility features provide solutions that allow the elderly, young children, or people with disabilities to operate electronic devices. Apple says that, while these features are important for users who know how to use them, they can be disorienting for users who don’t know how to operate them properly. Often, these accessibility features completely change the normal modes of interaction familiar to users of the electronic device. 

For example, screen reading technology changes the function of the keyboard such that individual keys control a screen reader, rather than cause the input of text. Other features change the normal output of the device. For example, screen magnification technologies magnify portions or the entirety of a user interface display in Fashions that may be unintelligible to a user not accustomed to the function. 

Apple says that inadvertent activation often leaves users with few options other than to call customer service, as they don’t know how to deactivate these features. Conventionally, there are no alternative modes of interacting with the electronic device that the user can use in all circumstances (e.g., independent of the status of user interface settings such as accessibility features) to turn off accidentally invoked accessibility features. 

Apple says it would be beneficial to provide methods and systems that can identify when a user is having difficulty operating an electronic device, caused by a change in a user interface setting, e.g., activation of an accessibility feature, and allow the user to restore changed user interface settings. 

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.