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Apple says ambient noise sensors could improve mobile video experience

If sudden background noise from busy environments has ever marred your mobile video viewing experience, Apple feels your pain and appears to be working on a solution to help mitigate the problem so you don't miss a thing.

In a new patent application published for the first time Thursday, the Cupertino-based mobile device maker proposes that future iOS devices like the iPhone and iPad employ ambient noise sensors that trigger the display of subtitles or closed captions once a certain level of ambient noise becomes present in your environment.

The technology is similar to the ambient light sensors already deployed on a wide range of Apple products, which help adjust display brightness on Macs and iOS handheld devices, while also serving to black out the iPhone's screen when it's being held up to your ear.

One example accompanying the filing illustrates a video played in full screen mode on an iPhone, including an overlying and partially transparent option sheet for subtitles that can include options for color, fonts and styles for the subtitles in addition to language.

"For example, the user can select an option to show the subtitles in a frame surround the video (e.g., letterbox mode) or overlying the video (e.g., full screen mode)," the company wrote. "In some implementations, other display elements presenting additional options may not fit on the screen. In such implementations, the viewer can scroll the sheet using touch gestures so that the hidden display elements can be viewed and accessed by the viewer."

In addition to persistent noise sampling, Apple said audio fingerprints of ambient noise for various environments could also be stored in the mobile device or on a network accessible by the mobile device, which could then trigger different actions for different environments.

"Thus, the mobile device can identify its local environment by sampling ambient noise present in the local environment, computing an audio fingerprint from the sampled audio noise, comparing the audio fingerprint with reference audio fingerprints stored in a database to find a match, and thus identify a type of ambient noise or environment," the filing says.

"For example, there can be a different volume adjustment factor associated with each reference audio fingerprint. One environment may be more noisy than another environment. These differences in ambient noise would be captured by two different audio fingerprints. In a first environment (e.g., a gym), the ambient noise could be very loud and would require a large increase in volume or an invocation of subtitles. In a second environment (e.g., a shopping mall), the ambient noise could be less than the first environment and would require a lesser increase in volume and possible not an invocation of subtitles."

The 12-page patent application is credited to Apple engineer Joel Kraut.