A patent application was published today that would allow future iPhones to adjust the volume of notifications up or down depending on the ambient noise level.
While the iPhone currently makes it relatively simple to adjust the volume of your ringtone or notifications manually, the reality is that many of us forget to do so. Have you ever had your phone ring obnoxiously loudly while in a quite environment – perhaps an office or fine dining restaurant?
On the other hand, many of us have missed calls or text messages because our ringtone or notification volume was too low for the loud environment we were in. As the patent states, “desired alert volume can differ dramatically based on whether a user is in his office with his device on his desk or in a crowded subway with his device in his pocket. Despite these distinct preferences, a user can keep an alert volume fixed in order to avoid the inconvenience of changing the setting or due to forgetfulness.”
Adjusting the phone’s notification volume based on ambient noise is a great idea. The problem lies in the fact that the majority of people keep their phones tucked away in a pocket, purse, or bag. The patent, titled “Volume Control for Mobile Device Using a Wireless Device” describes an interesting way to address this problem – by using a “wearable”, such as the Apple Watch, which is much more likely to be “exposed to the ambient air” than a user’s iPhone. The microphone in the Apple Watch can more accurately detect the noise level of a user’s environment, and transmit it to the phone for accurate adjustment of notification volume:
“For example, when a host device generates an audible alert (e.g., a ring tone indicating an incoming call), a wearable device that has a microphone can use its microphone to sample the ambient sound and attempt to detect a distinct contribution corresponding to the audible alert. If this contribution cannot be detected or is not sufficiently strong, the wearable device can notify the host device, and the host device can adjust the alert, e.g., by increasing the volume, adding or increasing the strength of a vibrational component of the alert, or the like.
Similarly, if the contribution of the alert to the signal is too strong, the wearable device can notify the host device, and the host device can adjust the alert, e.g., by decreasing the volume.”
The patent also describes how the using the Apple Watch to detect ambient sound levels can be used for other purposes – perhaps for increased noise cancellation while using Siri, for example.
Like many of Apple’s patents, it’s unsure when, if at all, this technology will be implemented. However, this particular patent seems much less outlandish than some of the other patents Apple has filed for in the past. It’s possible that we could see such technology implemented in a coming watchOS update, or possibly in the Apple Watch 2, which many expect to see later this year.