Apple iPhone Update: New Geo-fencing Patent Could Change Everything
Since cell phones were first introduced, few things have been as irritating to the theatergoing experience as the glow of a smartphone screen or having a "Sippin' On Some Syrup" ringtone interrupt you watching a movie.
Cell phones will likely continue to annoy us, no matter how many PSAs run before the trailers at the cinema. Some theaters have responded by getting extra strict with their no-talking, no-texting policy. Others have gone in the complete opposite direction, accepting cell phone use in theaters as the new normal and considering special phone-friendly theaters or screenings.
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Thanks to Apple though, it seems there could be a new way to tackle the problem. And it's brought to you by science. Apple - yes, the makers of the very same devices that irritate us to no end in the theater - has just won a patent for geo-fencing technology that could stop people from using their iPhones in the theater.
While the patent was originally filed in 2008, it just received approval today. It covers "[a]pparatus and methods for changing one or more functional or operational aspects of a wireless device, such as upon the occurrence of a certain event." In plain English: that means Apple could change your settings automatically based on where you are. There are plenty of potentially useful applications for this feature - classrooms and airplanes come to mind - but blocking cell phone use in theaters is one of the most obvious and tantalizing possibilities.
The patent would allow Apple to introduce an iPhone feature that would dim your iPhone's display, disable its calling and texting functions, silence its ringtone, or turn off its camera the second you walked into a theater. Of course, Apple could conceivably fine-tune the feature so your phone doesn't simply turn off. For example, Apple could design it so that even in movie-theater-lockdown mode, you'd still be able to make emergency calls or check the time.
Of course, this is all based on several very big "ifs." Apple would have to decide it wants to develop this application, movie theaters would have to agree to install new systems to trigger the feature, and consumers would have to learn how to deal with the trauma of hearing about Kim Kardashian's latest craaaaaaazy makeover a whole two hours late. Then there's the legal side of it. The patent may have been okayed, but if Apple actually starts working on such an application it would have to tread carefully to avoid breaking any FCC laws. And even in the best-case scenario, the feature would likely still be a few years away. We can always dream, though.