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Tuesday, April 30, 2013, 01:52 am PT (04:52 am ET)

Apple's contact service intelligently determines when to send a text instead of a call

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday granted Apple a patent for a dynamic communications system that automatically selects the best method of contacting another person, be it through voice, text or email, based on a given situation.

Contacting Service

Source: USPTO


Apple's U.S. Patent No. 8,433,805 for a "Method and system for facilitating contacting people using electronic devices," describes a technique in which an inititing user can be automatically informed of the most appropriate way to contact another person. In the various embodiments that follow, a "contactee" can also manually select which method of communication is best for a given time, for example via email when in a business meeting.

The patent aims to solve the problem of missed connections due to circumstances where another mode of communication would have been preferable. As an example, a "contactor" wants to communicate with another user, but the contactee may not answer a phone call because they are driving. In this situation, a text message or email would have been preferable. Apple's patent looks to automatically, and dynamically, notify a contactor of which communications method is most appropriate.

According to one embodiment, a contacting service is used as the backbone of the system. Leveraging information from a network of monitoring devices, the contacting service can provide preferable contact methods to a contactor. To protect a user's privacy, the reason for method of contact may not be disclosed.

Contacting Service

Diagram of contacting service and deployed monitor devices.


Examples of monitoring devices include GPS, personal computers, microphones, web cameras and the like. Using the data provided by these devices, the contacting service can automatically determine a user's location and likely situation.

A contactee can configure the contacting service, which may be Internet-based, to set certain rules and parameters attached to the monitored device data. Customization options include time, location, activity, and others. For example, if a contacting service uses GPS data and determines a contactee is riding a high-speed train, the system will choose a mobile phone as a preferred method of communication.

Alternatively, parameters can be set through a graphical user interface, which assigns rules to specific situations and relays the data back to the contacting service.

Contacting Service

Illustration of contacting service GUI.


Priorities can also be assigned. Groups can be placed in a number of tiers, each of which carries special contact rules. A user's boss and spouse may be in Tier 1, while friends are in Tier 2, and co-workers in Tier 3.

With the variety of predetermined parameters selected, the contacting service is then ready to receive queries from a contactor. In one embodiment, the contactor selects a contact from an address list on a mobile device. The device queries the contacting service, the service determines a contactee's location or likely activity, checks the preset parameters and sends back a message to the contactor regarding which method is best suited for the situation. Contactor may then choose the preferred method, or wait to contact at a different time. The system can alternatively use the selected method automatically.

Contacting Service

Enabling rules through UI.


Users can also modify the parameter set through the GUI, making the system continuously customizable and allowing for error correction.

Contacting Service

Modifying parameters.


In some iterations, the service can even suggest the contactor simply walk over to the contactee if both users are in close proximity.

Apple's contacting service patent was first filed for in 2008 and credits Thomas Ethan Lowry as its inventor.