Patent Watch: Apple Exploring Advanced Unlocking for Future iPhones?

No, not unlocking the iPhone from AT&T (JAR!), unlocking the iPhone so you can use it. Slide to unlock, passcode unlock, that kind of unlock. Okay, now if you're still reading, Apple Insider has found some patent filings that suggest Apple is exploring things like biometrics (i.e. it reads your fingerprint while you slide to unlock), facial recognition (i.e. uses the camera to analyze who you are/might be) and pattern matching (i.e. choose unique shape combinations as a passcode). But it doesn't stop there:

Apple goes so far as to suggest the possibility of recognizing the user's distinctive voice or even collecting DNA samples to recognize a user's genetic sequence. Biometrics could also be context-sensitive and detect the shape of a user's ear before allowing a call to go through, for example.

Of course, many, many Apple iPhone patents have yet to see the light of day, so there's no telling when, if ever, this functionality will be built into future iPhones. Still, it's always nice to Apple is working on possibilities for those future iPhones.

But we have to admit, some of this is just so sci-fi we kinda want to see if they can really do it...

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Patent Watch: Apple Exploring Advanced Unlocking for Future iPhones?


It wasn't long ago that small flip phones were sci-fi. None of this sounds unrealistic to me - even within the next few years.

The G1 uses that polygon shape thing. Would be cool to use finger print.
I dont know about voice though. I dont think im going to talk to my phone everytime i want to unlock it.

Ummm this is a hint that the next the next gen iPhone will have a front-facng camera XD
And yeah... Why is there a terminal icon in the bottm of the screen?

Who cares about different ways to unlock (although cool)... I want ways to customize what displays there without having to jailbreak (like snippets from the calendar or # of new/missed email/sms/calls).

I'd like to know how they can patent these things that they have never even built yet (no working model). As for the seemingly shot-gun approach to patenting every thing in sight, most of these exist and are patented already, and simply adding them to a handset is an Obvious application, so don't look for any of these patents to be issued or enforceable.

Nothing is obvious enough for the patent office.
Email existed. Wireless existed. NTP still was awarded the patent for connecting "existing electronic mail systems with RF wireless communication networks" and gets paid or drags companies into court.
Heck, Apple even licenses the patented concept of "1 Click Shopping" from Amazon for use in iTunes and iPhoto.
It sucks that patents like these are granted, but, until we (meaning US voters) demand the system change, it is hard to fault Apple for throwing whatever they are working on against the patent wall and seeing what sticks.