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Apple's Siri could decline phone calls with context-sensitive text responses in the future

Declining a call on an iPhone could be a more pleasant experience in the future for both parties, with Apple looking into ways for Siri to help provide the caller with a reason for why the call was rejected in a text message.

Current incoming call interfaces are relatively limited, providing basic options to answer or reject the call. For important contacts or family members, there is sometimes a need to advise the caller why the call cannot be answered, usually by text messages, but at the same time the recipient may not be in a position to write a custom message out in the first place, let alone sending a default unavailable response.

An Apple patent application published on Thursday by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for "Intelligent Digital Assistant for Declining an Incoming Call" aims to fix the problem by having Siri or another digital assistant automatically work out why the call cannot be accepted.

According to the application, the process starts when an incoming video or voice call is detected, prompting the digital assistant to attempt to acquire as much data about the user's situation as possible. This can include the user's location data, if the iPhone is in Do Not Disturb or another operating mode, or even data from third-party apps that are used for specific purposes, such as a fitness monitoring app detecting the user is in the middle of a workout.

Combining all this data together, the digital assistant can work out what the user is doing currently, and can create a message using that information. The generated message can be provided to the user to check that it is fine to send, before it is dispatched to the caller.

Images supplied in the patent application also suggest the system could be used with CarPlay as well as an iPhone, with the message and basic interface shown on the car infotainment unit's display. In example shown in the illustrations, a call from a spouse while in transit could generate a message stating the user is driving home, adding how long it will be until they arrive.

As the system would be able to detect the caller's relationship to the user, the messages will be tailored appropriately. While the call from the marital partner may reference "home" if it is the determined destination, a call from the user's boss while on the same journey could omit the reference, and instead state the street name for where the driver is going.

In each case, the system would provide the user with multiple message options, offering a few different ways to pass the message on depending on the user's wishes. The interface will also include options to answer or decline the call, if the person is still attempting to call them.

Apple is known for filing large numbers of patent applications for potential products, many of which do not end up being used in consumer products. In this case, a software-based solution that uses existing technologies in its task, it is plausible such a feature could be included in a future version of Siri, Apple's own digital assistant.

Distracted driving has been a problem for quite a few years, and one that Apple has already attempted to solve. Do Not Disturb While Driving was introduced as part of iOS 11, with the system attempts to minimize distractions from message notifications while the user is in a vehicle.

A study published in April 2018 suggests Do Not Disturb While Driving has made a small difference in U.S. driver habits since its introduction, reportedly reducing the amount of iPhone use while at the wheel by around 8 percent.