Apple has a couple new patent applications this morning, spotted by AppleInsider and detailing two very useful features for mobile devices. The first is a method for detecting and adjusting noise resulting from an iPhone vibrating in silent mode, and the second is a design for auto-zooming of content based on the proximity of a user’s face to a screen to present content at the best size for reading depending on how close they are and what they’re looking at.
The vibration motor patent is intended to make silent mode on an iPhone truly silent, by eliminating the noise it can make when the phone is on a flat, hard surface and notifications come in. With a phone call, that can become a major annoyance, especially if you’re not in a position to be able to get to the phone to silence it right away. To remedy this, Apple has worked out a system where microphones or motion sensors on a device can pick up on cues that indicate a phone is making a lot of noise, and change the vibration levels and patterns to compensate and minimize rattle.
Apple covers two types of vibration motors in this patent, including the rotational model it uses in the current iPhone 5 and older models, and the linear magnetic version it implemented in the iPhone 4S and CDMA iPhone 4. Methods to compensate for excessive vibration in both are described, and Apple also addresses how to still provide notifications that will signal a user even if vibration has to be turned way down, describing visual feedback and soft audio alerts that would actually still be quieter than an iPhone rumbling on a hard table top. Already, users can set their camera flash LED to provide notifications via their iPhone’s accessibility settings, which is one way to get around having either an audible or vibration alert signal.
The other patent filing that turned up today describes a replacement for pinch-to-zoom, which provides a way to dynamically alter the size of content based on how close a user gets to the screen. Text and images can both be enlarged or reduced according to what a device’s camera, proximity sensor or SONAR sensor (which Apple described in a previous patent) tells the system about how far away a user’s face is. In one mode called “comfort,” the system would zoom out on content when a user gets close to the screen, and enlarge it when they back further way, making it more convenient and easier to read in each situation. In another mode, called “zoom,” the action is reversed, which could come in handy for more visual content, like if you’re surveying a full painting at a distance, and then move in close for a look at some particular detail.
If executed well, this could come in handy as a replacement or supplement for the pinch-to-zoom gesture on small-screened devices especially, where zooming in and out is a constant, repetitive process, especially when viewing web content and trying to navigate full web sites not optimized for mobile. Both the zooming and the vibration alert patent show Apple’s attention to the finer details of the smartphone user experience, and while neither of these designs may ever make it to market, you can tell Apple’s aware of where its devices (and smartphones in general) offer opportunities to significantly improve a user’s enjoyment of their phone.