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Apple Invents a Smart Dock with Voice Recognition & Activation

30. Patent Application
On December 05, 2013, the US Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals a new smart dock with voice recognition and activation. The voice recognition system is illustrated in a device such as an alarm clock though technically it could be an Apple TV or other future device. The user will be able to place a phone call, play a tune, send a message or create a calendar entry by just speaking it aloud and the docked iDevice will respond due to its "listening mode." In other words, Siri may be coming to a future iDevice dock.


Apple's Patent Background


Portable electronic devices, such as cellular phones, have become ubiquitous in today's society, as have the peripheral electronic devices that support their use, such as docking stations and the like. Some portable electronic devices such as the iPhone can provide users with a variety of services in addition to facilitating telephone calls. Such services can include messaging (voice, SMS, e-mail, instant messaging, application messaging, etc.), management and playback of media content (music, videos, audiobooks, photos, documents, etc.), storage of personal data (calendar, contacts, notes, etc.), Internet access, and the ability to execute various applications.


In order to utilize the various functionalities provided by a portable electronic device, a user typically must interact with their device using finger controls and/or a graphical user interface (GUI) included on their device. However, such interaction requires that the portable electronic device be in the user's hand. If the user isn't proximate to their portable electronic device (e.g., if their device is connected to a charging power source on the other side of the room), the user may be unable to utilize the various services provided by their device in a timely and convenient manner.


Some existing portable electronic devices include voice recognition capabilities that allow a user to access the various functionalities on their device using audible voice commands. However, the utilization of such voice recognition capabilities in existing devices typically involves an initial activation step requiring the user to interact with the finger controls and/or GUI of their device before voice commands can be processed.


Apple's Invents a Smart Dock for Activating a Voice Recognition Mode of a Portable Device


Apple's invention generally relates to portable electronic devices, and more particularly to a smart dock for communicating with a portable electronic device to activate a voice recognition mode.


Embodiments of the present invention provide improved apparatus, systems and methods for communicating with a portable electronic device to activate a voice recognition mode.


Apple's patent FIG. 1 noted below illustrates a simplified perspective view of a dock according to an embodiment of the present invention that activates a voice recognition mode of a portable electronic device such an iPhone. The dock can include a housing and one or more user interface components integrated within the housing. For example, the dock can include a microphone (#114) configured to receive voice and audio input from a user, and one or more speakers (#112) for presenting audio output to a user.


2. Apple patent - smart dock with voice recognition mode

The dock can include one or more control buttons (#106) for a user to control various functionalities of the dock (e.g., volume, tuning, audio source, equalization, etc.) and a display screen (#104) which can display the current time and provide visual feedback regarding the operation of the dock. The display screen can also include a touch interface for a user to provide touch input to control various functionalities of the dock.


In embodiments of the present invention, the dock can include a remote sensor (#110) for communicating with a remote control (not shown) using infrared (IR), radio frequency (RF), or any other suitable mode of wireless communication, to communicate user input to the dock.


The portable electronic device such as an iPhone or iPod can include a microphone for receiving voice input from a user, and one or more speakers for presenting audio output to a user.


In another embodiment, the processor of the dock is operatively coupled to receive voice input from the microphone, transmit the voice input to the portable electronic device in the voice recognition mode via the connector, receive audio output from the portable electronic device in the voice recognition mode via the connector, and transmit the audio output to the speaker.


Wireless Charging Option


Apple further notes that the dock and portable electronic device can also include hardware configured to charge a battery (not shown). For example, the dock can be coupled to a power source and can deliver power to portable electronic device using any suitable means of power delivery such as conductive charging (e.g., direct coupling utilizing the contacts of connector 116 and receptacle connector 130) and/or wireless energy transfer (e.g., inductive coupling, magnetic resonance, etc.).


The Microphone


In respect to the microphone, Apple states that it can include one or more acoustic-to-electric transducers or sensors configured to convert sounds into an electrical signal. For example, the microphone can include one or more of a condenser microphone, an electret condenser microphone, a dynamic microphone, a ribbon microphone, a carbon microphone, a piezoelectric microphone, a fiber optic microphone, a laser microphone, a liquid microphone, a MEMS microphone, or the like. In embodiments of the present invention, microphone 124 can transmit voice input received from a user to processor 222 in the form of an electrical signal.


Voice Recognition Circuitry & User Requests


Apple states that voice recognition circuitry can include any suitable hardware and/or software for facilitating a voice recognition mode of a portable electronic device. A voice recognition mode can include any operational mode of portable electronic device wherein voice input (e.g., a word, phrase, or sound spoken by a user), as distinguished from touch or button input, is used to provide a user access to the various services, applications, and/or functionalities of portable electronic device.


Apple notes that in embodiments of the present invention, the dock may be configured to analyze accents, varying speed of delivery, pitch, volume, inflection, and other aspects of the received audio input during the initial setup process.


Apple describes that user's will be able to use voice input to make a request. The user request may be to utilize one or more services, applications, and/or functionalities of their iDevice such as placing a phone call, playing multimedia content (e.g., playing a song from the user's music library), sending a message (e.g., a voice message, e-mail message, SMS message, video message, instant message, meeting invite, etc.), creating a calendar entry (e.g., creating a meeting, task, reminder, etc.), retrieving driving and/or walking directions, retrieving public transportation information, setting an alarm, checking the weather forecast, locating attractions, creating restaurant reservations, accessing reviews, searching the Internet, and/or the like.


The user request may also relate to system notifications of an iDevice such as missed calls and unread voice messages, e-mail messages, SMS text messages, instant messages, and/or the like.


Apple's patent FIG. 4 illustrates a flow diagram of a process usable by the dock to receive voice input from a user and to provide audio output generated by an iDevice to the user.


3. Apple patent fig. 4, Activating Listening Mode

Listening Mode


Apple further notes that the dock can activate a "listening mode." When in the listening mode, the dock can utilize the microphone to continuously "listen" for audio input from the user and other sources. The microphone may be configured to detect audio input with a volume level above a specific threshold and may also be sensitive to audio input originating from a distance within a specific threshold (e.g., 20 feet) from the microphone. For example, during the initial setup process, the dock may prompt the user to select a volume and distance threshold to ensure that sounds originating from another room, for example, are not detected by the microphone when the dock is in the listening mode.


4A. Apple idevice - dock overview

Patent Credits


Apple credits Scott Krueger, Jesse Dorogusker and Erik Wang as the inventors of this patent application which was originally filed in Q2 2012 and published today by the US Patent and Trademark Office.


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