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Future iPhones could listen for chewing and tell you to diet

Apple has been granted a patent for technology that has the iPhone hear chewing, prompt you to photograph your food, and could then criticize your food choices.

Apple's newly-granted "Augmented Reality Calorie Counter" patent is split between detection of chewing, and then determination of what is being eaten. The patent doesn't really explicitly say Apple will complain at you for snacking. But that's only because patents are concerned with how something is determined, not what is then done with the information.

Even so, this is clearly another avenue for Apple's ever-expanding health services. But in this case the company says it's needed because of our ever-expanding waistlines — and the perhaps surprising difficulties in counting calories.

"Many factors contribute to inaccurate calorie counting," says Apple. "For example, serving sizes may be difficult to measure while eating in a restaurant."

"The result is that people have inaccurate calorie counts, impairing weight loss, accurate drug dosages, and more," it continues.

According to Apple, there is an option to purchase and eat "only from single serving packages to ensure an accurate calorie count," but this is "expensive and impractical." Plus it "leads to an excessive amount of packaging materials."

Consequently, Apple thinks the iPhone can step in with a "method for improving determination of food consumption."

"[It] includes detecting, by a microphone, a chewing noise from a user during a chewing session;" continues Apple, "[and] in response to detecting the chewing noise, triggering operation of a camera; obtaining, by the camera, image data capturing a food product."

Detail from the patent showing an iPhone user realising he or she can't cook

That image can then be analyzed in presumably similar ways to how Visual Look Up identifies plants and flowers. As well as figuring out whether it's chocolate cake or a BLT, the image processing includes "determining a volume of the food product based on the measurement of the chewing session."

So it knows how many beans there are on your plate, and it knows how you spend chewing. That means the iPhone can then be used in "determining a calorie intake based on the food product, the volume of the food product, and the measurement of the chewing session."

The patent is unusually careful to stress just how "complex and time consuming" figuring out exactly how to implement such a system would be. "[It] would nevertheless be a routine undertaking for those of ordinary skill in the art of image capture."

So yes, grabbing a photo of a sandwich at a gas station will be different and perhaps harder than photographing a banana on your kitchen table. But the steps will be the same — detecting eating, prompting for photo, and analyzing that image.

Apple does also say that there will be circumstances when other information comes into play. "For example, location information associated with the image data may indicate a particular restaurant," it says, "prompting object detection module... and processor... to use the restaurant's menu to identify the food product."

Again, the patent is focused solely on getting this data, in this determining a calorie count. Presumably that information could be recorded in some part of the Health app.

But it means your iPhone knowing what you eat, how long you eat it for, how much you're eating, and even just how many times you go to Chili's. There's got to be scope for a third-party dieting app that's as sarcastic as Carrot Weather can be.