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Future iPhones may recognize accessories and change user interface to suit

An iPhone could identify that it's in a case with a transparent section and display information only in that area.

Apple has been researching how an iPhone could switch apps or present different information depending on what case you put it in.

It's similar to the idea behind the new StandBy in iOS 17. With that, you can pop your iPhone 15 Pro onto a MagSafe charging stand in landscape orientation and have it display photos, or your calendar, or the time.

And, significantly, you can put the same iPhone onto a different MagSafe stand, and it will remember if you've set it up before. So without your doing anything each time, just putting the phone onto a charging stand with the phone in landscape can get you totally different results.

Apple wants to do something similar with cases. It wants it so that "when the mobile phone is placed in a sport-focused protective case, the mobile phone may, without additional user input, replace its primary graphical user interface (or any graphical user interface that is currently active) with a sport-focused interface."

Maybe that's just switching to a lock screen and wallpaper showing an image of your favorite team, or maybe it's matching the color scheme of the sports case. Or perhaps it will do all of this, plus show you scores in Live Activities, and turn on AirPlay to stream the game to your TV set.

This is the point behind a newly-revealed patent application called "Dynamic User Interface Schemes for an Electronic Device Based on Detected Accessory Devices."

Most of the patent application concerns cases, but there is a similar proposal regarding docks or mounts.

"A dock for an electronic device may include a support structure configured to position the electronic device in a viewable orientation when the dock is on a surface of an object," says Apple, "a near-field wireless communication antenna configured to cause the electronic device to display a graphical user interface in response to the electronic device being positioned on the support structure, and an input system configured to wirelessly communicate with the electronic [device]."

Whether it's for a dock or a case, Apple says that "various different accessories for electronic devices may each include near-field wireless communication antennas that allow the accessories to be detected and identified by the electronic device."

The iPhone could recognze and adapt to any number of cases or docks
The iPhone could recognze and adapt to any number of cases or docks

Then once "a particular accessory is detected near the electronic device, the electronic device may change its mode of operation in a manner that is unique to that particular accessory or type of accessory."

It's easiest to see how this could help with docks — and does help with StandBy — but it's harder to imagine with cases. By definition, a case will enclose the phone and so hide whatever changed display it is offering.

There is the fact that this changed display will be there when you open the case, but Apple also proposes that such an enclosure could have a transparent cover.

"The electronic device may also include a display positioned below the transparent cover and configured to display a first graphical user interface," continues Apple, "and a second graphical user interface different from the first graphical user interface."

So with the case closed, maybe the iPhone could show a clock in a transparent top half. "[Or] a touch sensor positioned below the transparent cover [could be] configured to detect touch inputs applied to the transparent cover."

This patent application is credited to seven inventors. They include Gemma A. Roper and Thomas S. Hulbert, whose previous work includes proposals for AirPods to detect gestures.