Microsoft is trying to patent a technology that could tone down the brightness and noise of smartphones, with an eye toward reducing the nuisance factor in public places.
Published yesterday by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the application for the patent dubbed "Inconspicuous Mode For Mobile Devices" defines a method to shift a smartphone into an "inconspicuous" mode, either manually or automatically.
In this mode, the brightness and contrast would be dimmed while the audio would be disabled. The information appearing on the home screen could also be minimized to dampen the display.
The user would be able to manually switch the phone into this inconspicuous mode. The phone could also automatically switch itself based on certain surrounding conditions, such as ambient light or sound.
This technology could come in handy in a variety of scenarios. One example cited in the patent application is a dark, crowded theater where the glare and noise of even a single smartphone often proves annoying to others in the audience. Another common example is in bed when one person is trying to sleep while another fiddles with a smartphone that practically lights up the whole room.
Mobile communication devices are sometimes used as a substitute for a watch, and these people may use the device to check the time while in the theater. Even this use of the device can be distracting to other theater patrons because of the light emanating from the display when the user looks at the display to see the time. Many of these same and other similar problems arise not only in theaters, but in other environments and venues such as in a meeting room, automobile, and even bedrooms.
As smartphones have become more ubiquitous, they've also become more obtrusive. Microsoft isn't the first company to try to devise a way to make smartphones more palatable in public places. Apple recently filed a patent designed to stifle the noise made by iPhones in vibrate mode. Whoever gets there first, let's hope the technology eventually finds its way to all smartphones.