updated 01:45 pm EDT, Thu July 5, 2007
Light sensitive hold
Apple has issued a patent for a hold switch that is automatically triggered by ambient light. In other words, if a device is put into a dark space, it will be triggered to enter "hold" mode. Possible applications for this patent include an iPhone that automatically turns off the ringer in a dark movie theater, or (more likely) an iPod that automatically resists any user input when it is placed in a pants pocket or purse. As soon as the device is taken out and again placed in a lighted environment, it is taken out of hold mode and ready for use.
The patent is actually slightly more broad, in essence, calling for a portable electronic device that can change its state or mode or adjust a control feature based on the user's anticipated needs, but without receiving instructions from the user. That is, said device could harbor a number of sensors that predict what a user would like to do, then take appropriate action. This includes the aforementioned ambient light sensor, but could also involve other sensors including accelerometers, proximity sensors and more.
Making direct reference to a "portable device," the Apple patent discusses a "plurality of sensors that provides information or cues that help predict the future use of the portable hand held device or anticipate the user's needs associated with the portable handheld device so that the portable hand held device can be configured accordingly, each of the sensors being configured to measure different environmental conditions at the portable handheld device."
And, perhaps referencing the iPhone, Apple describes "switching between a ring mode (where a cellular phone rings when a call is received) and a vibrate mode (where a cellular phone vibrates when a call is received) based on the ambient light level. For example, switching from a ring mode to a vibrate mode when the ambient light level decreases a certain amount or reaches a predetermined or specified darkness level, and switching from a vibrate mode to a ring mode when the ambient light level increases a certain amount or reaches a predetermined or specified lightness level."