updated 10:18 am EST, Tue February 26, 2013
Future devices could in theory
Apple has won a pair of patents via the US Patent and Trademark Office, AppleInsider notes. The first, Electronic device with automatic mode switching, talks about a "situational awareness module" which would use data from various sensors to predict what a person needs and adjust a device automatically. A phone could be woken from sleep, for instance, by detecting ambient light and the switch out of a horizontal orientation. The same criteria could be used to decide whether a phone is in ring or vibrate mode.
Notably much of the patent and its diagrams allude to the clickwheel iPod, but have had references added to include cellphones. An application for the patent was originally submitted in 2011; currently Apple devices make relatively little use of the concept, for instance just shutting off the display when an iPhone is close to an ear, or changing a device's screen orientation when it's tilted on its side.
The second patent covers sharing location data with a secondary device. In effect it describes something already in place with iOS devices, which is the ability to feed or receive GPS coordinates. Some car docks, for instance, have allowed the iPod touch to use navigation apps. Apple's patent also talks about the reverse situation, in which an iPhone or iPad might feed GPS data to another mobile device.