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Apple patent would auto-tune iPhone, Mac volume

updated 12:10 pm EST, Thu January 22, 2009

Apple Adaptive Mic Patent

The US Patent Office today published an Apple patent filing that reveals the company having developed a system to auto-tune sound volumes. Citing the problems with having to constantly adjust the volume of a cellphone's ringer or a notebook's speakers to adapt to noisier or quieter environments, Apple suggests that a sound sensor like a mic can be used to determine the ambient noise level on startup or over time and change the base volume to be audible based on nearby conditions.

The system wouldn't necessarily lock the volume to its own preferences and could account for the user's own choices for relative volume when setting the new sound level. It could also change settings when a user plugs in headphones or recommend a switch to this kind of listening when it detects an echo that might make listening difficult. It could alternately try to actively cancel the outside echo through changes to its own sound output.

Credited to Peter Mahowald, the patent application was first filed in July 2007, or shortly after the launch of the original iPhone. Apple hasn't used the technology so far and hasn't made indications of any plans to use it in the future; however, the company already uses ambient sensors to detect light for the displays on the iPhone, iPod touch and most Macs as well as to illuminate MacBook keyboards.

by MacNN Staff



  1. testudo

    Joined: Dec 1969



    OK for a laptop, but not really usable for a phone. Will it be able to detect noise when it sits in your pocket? Or think it is really quiet, so turns it down even softer?

  1. bjojade

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Proximity sensor?

    There already is a proximity sensor, so maybe it'll know if it's in a pocket and ring even louder!

  1. danviento

    Joined: Dec 1969


    easy answer

    If it's in your pocket, the the less annoying VIBRATE function would solve that problem.

    But what about women who carry their phone in a purse? For some I know, it takes max ringer volume AND vibrate just to get their attention...

  1. dynsight

    Joined: Dec 1969



    Depending on how you look at this, you could argue that cars have had this technology for while. That is, if you accelerate, the stereo gets louder, when you slow down or stop, it gets quieter (all centered around the current volume setting).

    In a way, this is like setting the brightness on the iPhone, and also using auto brightness.

    I kind of like this idea.

    And for those who try to use it, and don't like it, I am sure there will be a way to tweak or disable it.

  1. nhmlco

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Patenting my idea...

    I've suggested this at least a half dozen times to Apple Feedback over the past four years or so, pretty much every time I've been in NYC and attempting to listen to my iPod/iPhone while walking on city streets and (especially) when riding the subway.

    Seems like even new iPod Touch's and the like could use the headset microphone on the latest earbuds.

    Glad to see that they're considering it, but bummed that they're patenting third-party ideas.

  1. testudo

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Re: technology

    Wow, never seen a car with that type of stereo. Must get out more.

    Then again, I'm sure some will argue your car shouldn't be making that much noise when it is moving anyway (if your car is good enough).

  1. gitcypher

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Re: Technology

    The '08 Ford Fusion has this. You can set how much you want the volume to increase when you're driving. I don't know for sure, but I assume that the system anticipates road noise, and this gets 'activated' above 45 mph or so.

  1. Geobunny

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Re: nhmico & testudo

    When you make a suggestion to Apple, there's a little disclaimer you agree to which says you waive any ownership/rights of the idea and it automatically becomes Apple's own thought. At least it used to, I've given up using the feedback pages as I'm sure they're delivered straight to /dev/null

    As for cars, my '03 Fiat does the stereo player volume thing, so it's definitely been around for a few years now! 'Tis damn annoying not being in control of the volume though, so I turned it and the volume-up-for-TrafficAnnouncements feature off about a week after I got the car. It's never been back on since!

  1. Guest

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Welcome to 2002, Apple

    This was filed as a feature request for Rockbox already in 2002. Now Apple files a (very generic) patent for it in 2007? Tsk tsk...

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