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Apple is looking to turn Apple Watch into an automated iPhone command and control module, as a patent application published Thursday details a method by which the wearable monitors, compares and adjusts handset audio output on the fly.
Published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Apple's "Volume control for mobile device using a wireless device" application is a narrowly worded invention describing an Apple Watch implementation for automatically adjusting an iPhone's alert volume, or other characteristics, based on ambient sound samples.
Such a system has obvious benefits in loud environments where alerts might not cut through environmental chatter, and would play well in quiet situations by silencing disturbing ringtones or alerts. In addition, because the Watch is positioned on a user's body it is more accurate than an identical sound regulation mechanism built directly into iPhone.
In practice, a monitoring Apple Watch uses its microphone to sample ambient sound, collecting data at regular intervals or when triggered to do so by a host device. Using this information as a baseline, Watch is able to parse out an alert from background noise and make a volume adjustment determination.
The data can also be used to determine if a connected phone is stowed in a bag, tucked in a pocket, positioned away from the user or otherwise situated so as to be sonically occluded by a sound barrier.
In some embodiments an iPhone sends a notification signal to the wearable prior to playing an audible alert. The receiving Apple Watch listens for the incoming tone and compares the signal against a stored ambient noise reference signal. Depending on the results of Watch's analysis, facilitated through database of sounds and various preset thresholds, command signals are sent to raise, lower or modify an iPhone's output volume.
Apple's invention can also be applied to clean up audio signals in an on-device speech recognition system. Filtering out ambient noise could, for example, increase the effective distance of Apple's always-on "Hey Siri" function introduced with iPhone 6s.
Apple's iPhone monitoring Apple Watch patent application was first filed for in 2014 and credits David J. Shoemaker and Eugene Dvortsov as its inventors.