Have you ever been in a meeting where someone forgot to set their phone to vibrate for incoming calls? Sometimes to be polite, you may smile at the person because the ringtone is the Flintstones theme or some other silly tune and then there are other times when your nostrils will flare if you're in the middle of a pivotal point in your presentation when the stupid phone will ring. Yes, those are the dumb-phones and Apple wants to change all of that and put smart haptics into their future iPhones to really make them, well, smart. Apple's plans are quite extensive to ensure that no matter what environment you're in, your future iPhone will be able to adapt and/or adjust the alert to whatever is needed and appropriate – autonomously. Yes, like in meetings.
Overview of the Standing Problem
Electronic devices are ubiquitous in society and could be found in everything from wristwatches to computers. Many of these electronic devices are portable and also include the ability to obtain a user's attention through the use of an alert device. For example portable electronic devices like cellular phones and watches contain alert devices such as vibrating motors, speakers, and/or lights to attract the user's attention. Because of their portable nature, many of these portable electronic devices are made as small as possible by miniaturizing the components therein. As part of this miniaturization effort, the alert devices in the electronic devices are often made as small as possible in order to conserve space. However, these miniaturized alert devices could be problematic for several reasons.
First, these miniaturized alert devices may be inadequate to obtain the user's attention in a variety of different situations. For example, if the user of a cell phone is in an environment where there is a great deal of ambient noise, such as a concert or live sporting event, then the user may be unable to see a visual alert from a miniaturized light on the phone, hear an auditory alert from a miniaturized speaker in the phone and/or unable to detect vibration coming from the phone's miniaturized vibration motor.
Additionally, because of electronic devices often contain slight variations in the way they were manufactured, the actual response of the alert device within the electronic device may vary between electronic devices. In other words, slight variations in the actual manufacturing of an electronic device may cause the electronic device to react differently to the same force driving the alert device. For example, the vibration frequency may vary between phones of the same make and model because of manufacturing tolerance, and therefore, the same amount of vibration from a vibrating motor may unintentionally produce different levels of user alerts. Furthermore, performance variation may occur over time due to bearing wear, dust, oxides on brushes, and/or temperature changes.
Thus, methods and systems that adaptively adjust the alert devices within electronic devices to overcome one or more of these problems are desirable.
Apple's Solution – A Self Adapting Haptic System
Apple's patent generally relates to haptic devices in electronic systems, and more particularly to a self adapting haptic device.
Specifically, Apple's patent covers methods and apparatuses that allow an electronic device to autonomously adapt one or more user alerts of a particular electronic device.
iPhone: Alert Devices
Apple's patent FIG. 1 shown below illustrates an iPhone (e-device 100) capable of autonomously adjusting one or more of its alert devices to obtain the attention of a user in different environments. The iPhone may include one or more alert devices capable of obtaining the attention of the user, including a vibration motor 102, a light source 104, and/or a speaker 106.
Apple's patent FIG. 1 also shows that these alert devices may be coupled to one or more sensors 108 and 110 located within the iPhone that measure indications about the environment in which the iPhone is operating. These measurements may include the movement, proximity to the user, location, whether the user is holding the iPhone, ambient light levels, and/or ambient noise levels experienced by the iPhone.
Primary and Secondary Functionality
In some embodiments, sensors 108 and 110 may be configured to provide a primary functionality, such as receiving user or environmental input related to applications or programs running on the iPhone. However, these sensors may be repurposed or additionally used to provide secondary functionality for the iPhone. "Secondary functionality" generally refers to the use of one or more sensors for an operation, or to provide input or output, other than their primary purpose. Thus, a temperature sensor configured to monitor the heat of a casing may also be used to detect a rise in heat from the presence of a user's hand as "secondary functionality."
Haptics to better Games
As another example of secondary functionality, sensor(s) may be used to determine the operating parameters of haptic devices. As a more specific example, measurements from an accelerometer are often primarily used to determine an orientation a device. However, in some instances, the signals outputted by the accelerometer may be used with interactive software (such as a video game) to provide an additional input device for user gameplay, thereby providing secondary functionality for the accelerometer. Continuing this example, the accelerometer may be repurposed for determining the operation of a haptic device. For example, when the haptic device operates, the accelerometer may be used to indirectly measure the operating parameters (such as frequency) of the haptic device to determine whether there is degradation in the haptic feedback. The accelerometer may compare the range of motion of the haptic device during operation to a stored profile to determine if the haptic feedback is too great or too weak. A feedback control loop may be provided to correct for any deviance from a determined operating range, as described in detail below.
Two Scenarios: Getting the User's Attention
Based on these measurements, the electronic device may autonomously decide the most effective way to obtain the user's attention in that particular environment. Patent FIGS. 2 and 3 illustrate two distinct operating environments for the iPhone, where the alert used to obtain the user's attention may vary between these two operating environments.
Classroom or Meeting: Referring first to the operating environment shown in FIG. 2, the iPhone may be lying flat on a table such as may be the case when the user is in a classroom or meeting. If the sensors 108 and 110 are implemented as an accelerometer and microphone respectively, then the iPhone may detect that it is in a classroom or meeting by the sensors reporting no movement from the accelerometer and/or a relatively low ambient noise level from the microphone. Upon detecting that it is operating in this environment, the iPhone may silence any audible alerts to the user, such as when there is an incoming phone call.
In a Purse: Conversely, FIG. 3 illustrates a user carrying their iPhone in a purse where it may be jostled around. If the sensors 108 and 110 are implemented as an accelerometer and an ambient light sensor (ALS) respectively, then the iPhone's operating environment may detect that it is in a confined space that is dark by the ALS reporting a relatively low ambient light level and that the iPhone is being moved around by the accelerometer reporting movement. This operating environment may require louder user alerts than the situation shown in FIG. 2, for example, the strength of user alerts, both auditory and vibrations, may be increased in these situations.
An Alternate Design
Apple's patent FIG. 4 illustrates an alternate embodiment of an iPhone which includes a plurality of motors 402-408 coupled to the sensors 409 and 410. As shown, in this embodiment, the plurality of sensors 402-408 may be in different locations within the iPhone so as to vibrate different portions of the iPhone.
For example, if the iPhone is located within the purse, as was noted in patent FIG. 3, the sensors 409 and 410 could indicate that one end 412 of the iPhone is touching the bottom of the purse 305 and the other end 414 isn't. The iPhone's sensors will figure out that it needs to vibrate the end that touching the purse so that the owner will feel the most vibration possible.
Apple's patent FIG. 5 illustrates a block diagram of an iPhone that may include a plurality of sensors 502-512 coupled to a processor 516. These sensors may be used alone or in combination to determine the current operating environment of the iPhone. The microprocessor may be further coupled to one or more alert devices 518-522.
The iPhone via these new sensor systems will be able to interpret various environments and provide the user with the best way to get their attention that a call is coming in – be it flashing lights, raising the ringtone, vibrating harder or whatever other device capabilities that Apple decides to provide. Not all will of course be laid out neatly in this patent to keep competitors scratching their heads. The patent continues to cover various other aspects of the design such as implementing infrared technology that could measure body heat when you're exercising or GPS to measure your surrounding weather conditions.
Apple's patent FIG. 9 illustrates an electronic device with a feedback and control system for adjusting operating parameters of a haptic device.
Apple credits Matthew Hill as the sole inventor of patent application 20110075835, originally filed in Q1 2010. A second patent by the same title could be found under patent application 20110077055.
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