Apple Wins Patent for Data Collection, Automation Scheme

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Most people follow certain routines: going to bed and rising at the same time; going to work and leaving at the same time; or playing golf every Saturday morning. But people might also follow routines they aren’t even aware of.

That’s where a patent granted to Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) last week comes in. Instead of just changing a setting, the company has described a method for customizing a “computing device” in which the device senses what a user is doing, collects data on those actions, finds the repetitive connections among those data and suggests to the user a “prospective automation setting,” including the properties of the proposed setting.

In late March, Apple acquired automation app Workflow, which allows users to create their own macro commands by creating a string of functions from other apps to automate certain repetitive tasks.

Here is an example from Apple’s patent application:

As for the first step of collecting data, the method can collect data of user activities based on the user’s routine behavior of using certain options or turning on/off certain options on a device (e.g., turn off phone ringing). The activities data collected can also include time, location, or some other significant variables, so the dependence of the activities on these variables can be determined. As an example, phone ringing can be turned off for certain time period (e.g., during Monday 8 am-9 am weekly meeting) and location (e.g., at work). As for the second step of learning about the user’s behavior, background software can be used to collect, compute, and analyze data for a given period of time. In particular, the method can collect data for 50 or 100 repetitive operations (e.g., 50 or 100 times of turning off phone ringing) or the method can collect data for a certain number of days (e.g., collect data for three weeks). In the third step, the method generates an automation setting (e.g., turn off phone ringing during Monday 8 am-9 am weekly meeting) of the device based on the user’s behavior, and then presents the automation setting of the device to the user for customization of the device. In particular, the method can present the automation setting to the user as a workflow or a pictorial flow chart of operation (e.g., if time is Monday 8 am-9 am, then turn off phone ringing). Then the user can accept the automation setting with a single swipe, or further fine tune the automation setting (e.g., change the automation setting to be “if time is Monday 8 am-9 am and the location is at work, then turn off phone ringing”) before accepting it.

Here’s an illustration of this example from the patent application:

Source: Apple Inc./US Patent Office

Will this feature be part of iOS 11 and ship with the iPhone 8? Boy Genius Report suggests it’s possible, but there’s no reason (yet) to believe it will happen.