Back in October 2011 we reported that Apple's "Slide to Unlock" patent stirred up a hornet's nest in Taiwan and we now see that Apple has filed another patent infringement lawsuit against Samsung over this feature. On Tuesday, Apple's CEO Tim Cook stated during a Goldman Sachs conference that he loved competition – as long as they invented their own stuff. While it's pretty clear that Samsung has copied Apple's slide to unlock feature on certain smartphones, relief may be on the way. A new Google patent application that was published by the by the US Patent and Trademark Office earlier this month, reveals that Google will offer Android OEMs new options to unlock future Android devices. One method simply involves using voice recognition while a second method involves a nifty two-icon methodology. Although Google's alternative unlocking feature based on face recognition method has been compromised, it now appears that Google has finally found a few new tricks to unlock future Android devices while avoiding patent infringement trouble with Apple. That's something that Samsung will be very glad to get their hands on – sooner rather than later. Report Updated Feb. 17, 2012
Google's Patent Background
Computing devices, such as smartphones or desktop computers, often have a security measure that prevents accidental and/or unauthorized access. The locking of a device may simply be aimed at preventing casual contact with the device from leading to a dialed number or similar input, or it may be aimed at preventing a user other than the owner of the device from accessing the full functionality of the device (partial functionality like a clock and access to dialing 911 may be permitted even when the device is locked). For example, a user of a smartphone may enter a number of alphanumeric characters to gain access to the full functionality of the smartphone, or a smartphone may have a touchscreen on which a simple pattern can be drawn by a user to unlock the device. A more complex pattern can be used to prevent access by unauthorized users. Larger computers, such as desktop computers, also often require a person to enter a username and password to unlock or gain access to the device.
Google's Proposal: Security-Based Unlocking
Google's invention describes systems and techniques by which a locked computing device may respond to inputs from a user of the device who is preferably an authorized user of the device. In particular examples presented below, the input is a request to perform a particular operation beyond simply unlocking the device. For example, icons for a number of commands may be displayed on a touchscreen, though a user will not be able to invoke those commands when the device is locked simply by tapping them in a normal manner, as the user could if the device were unlocked. Instead, the user may be required to perform a more complex action that is unlikely to be performed accidentally or by an unintended action such as contact with the touchscreen when the device is in a user's pocket. Such action may involve, for example, dragging from one of the command-related icons to an unlock icon at a different location on the touchscreen and releasing over that other icon. The device may then respond by executing at least part of the requested command while the unlocking operation is still being performed, such as launching an application to which the first icon is directed. In this two-icon dragging example, the motion may also be reversed, with the user starting at an unlock icon and dragging it to a command-related icon.
In one aspect, a computer-implemented method for making an input to a locked device includes receiving at a computing device that is in a locked state, one or more user inputs to unlock the computing device and to execute at least one command that is different from a command for unlocking the computing device.
Implementations can include any, all, or none of the following features. Executing at least one command begins before the user inputs to unlock the computing device are fully received. The method includes comparing the user inputs to unlock the computing device to one or more passcodes, and executing the unlock operation only if the user inputs to unlock the computing device match the one or more passcodes. Receiving the user inputs to unlock the computing device and to execute at least one command, includes receiving a touch input on a device touchscreen to unlock the computing device and a spoken input to execute the at least one command.
A system can receive a voice input that requests an operation while an unlocking operation is performed. Results of an operation that was requested while a computing device is locked can be presented audibly while the computing device is being unlocked.
In some implementations, a system can provide efficient input commands by accepting a single input that initiates multiple actions, such as an unlocking operation and another operation or an email operation and an email recipient selection.
Google's patent FIG. 1 noted above is a schematic diagram that shows an example of a system (100) for initiating an action at a mobile device (102) while unlocking the mobile device. The mobile device is an electronic device that performs one or more actions, such as a smartphone or a tablet computer. The mobile device includes a user interface that can be locked and unlocked by a user, and typically will implement the interface as a touchscreen display in a familiar manner.
Google's FIG. 1 also illustrates "Voice Search Requests" being able to be executed for regular searches as well as being used as part of the unlock process. If the request to unlock the mobile device is valid, then the mobile device unlocks itself. Otherwise, the mobile device remains in the locked state and can prompt the user to reenter the unlocking information.
As long as the user has not entered an appropriate credential (password or passcode), the device maintains a typical locked state in which it accepts only very limited inputs, such as dialing of emergency numbers, and provides only limited, non-secure information such as the date and time.
Patent FIG. 2 shows an example of a user interface for initiating an action while unlocking a device. Google notes that before a user completes a password entry input, the user can press the search icon, speak a voice command to the mobile computing device, and subsequently complete the password entry input using the keyboard.
In another example, the user can input the password or other unlocking information in another way, such as by speaking the password or drawing an unlocking pattern on the touch screen.
Google's Proposal: Convenience-Based Unlocking
Google's patent FIG. 3A shows an example of a mobile computing device (300) that allows a user to initiate an action while unlocking the mobile computing device. In general, the device provides for convenience-based unlocking rather than the security-based unlocking described earlier.
In particular, convenience-based unlocking is directed to requiring a user to perform an action on a touchscreen that would not easily be performing accidentally or by inanimate objects that might come in contact with the screen, such as in the user's pocket. Patent FIG. 3 illustrates such an action involving the user dragging an icon of a phone contact at the top of the display to an unlocking icon position below. Alternatively, the system may be set up to illustrate a number of functions or feature icons related to a document file, email and more. The user could decide that their unlock combination is dragging two or more icons to the unlock icon at the bottom of the UI.
Google's Proposed Radial Menu Interface Element
Google's patent FIG. 4 illustrates how they may introduce a new menu interface element to assist in unlocking process in future devices. While the element may look like Apple's iPod Clickwheel, how it functions is different. It's not about moving the circular element to move up or down a list of items like iTunes, but rather the wheel containing a series of action icons that are mated to the unlock icon to open the device.
Example: the mobile computing device 400 receives an input from the user that drags the unlock icon (406) to the action icon (404c), then to the action icon 404b, and finally back to the action icon 404c. In this example, the first selection of the action icon 404c indicates a request from the user to open the email application upon completion of the unlocking operation.
Subsequently, the user drags an unlock pattern through the action icons 404b-c (i.e., drag one action clockwise to the action icon 404b and then one action counter-clockwise back to the action icon 404c). After the first selection of the action icon 404c for the email application, the mobile computing device begins initiating the email application, such as by refreshing the inbox, retrieving content for messages, and/or retrieving contact information. Once the mobile computing device receives the remainder of the user input including a successful unlocking pattern, then the mobile computing device presents the user interface for the requested email application.
Of course, the user may combine the unlock icon to any action icon of the user's choosing so that other actions could take place as they unlock their device. Meaning instead of ending up in your email after entering your security code, it could be that you end up in your documents, social networking apps, a video game or whatever is part of your passcode/action combination and priority to you.
If all of that sounds too complicated, then you'll be given the option to duplicate your combination of icons verbally to unlock your device. It would sound like a chess move: Unlock to Mary to email to documents.
Google's patent application was originally filed in Q3 2010 and published this month by the USPTO.
Update Feb. 17, 2012: Apple wins German injunction against most of Motorola's slide-to-unlock implementations: Read more. It would seem obvious that the new unlocking solutions outlined in our Google patent report are likely to get fast tracked so as to assist Android OEMs against further court battles with Apple going forward. Though only time will tell.
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Here are a Few Great Sites covering our Original Report
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Note: The sites that we link to above offer you an avenue to make your comments about this report in other languages. These great community sites also provide our guests with varying takes on Google's latest invention. Whether they're pro or con, you may find them to be interesting, fun or feisty. If you have the time, join in!