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Apple Patent To Safeguard 911 Cellphone Calls 226

Posted by Soulskill
from the in-case-of-seizure-please-shake-your-iphone dept.
MojoKid writes "Engineers from Apple have applied for a patent on an 'emergency' mode for cell phones that would squeeze every last drop of energy out of the batteries. The phone would recognize emergency calls when the user dialed an emergency number, such as 911 in the United States. But another number could also be stored as an 'emergency number' on the phone (a spouse, child, or parent, for example) or the user could manually put the phone in emergency mode. The process would do a variety of things. It would disable 'non-essential hardware components' and applications on the phone, reduce power to the screen and potentially reduce the phone's processor speed. It also would make it harder to disconnect the call and enable 'emergency phrase buttons' on the phone."
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Apple Patent To Safeguard 911 Cellphone Calls

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  • by Deltaspectre (796409) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @11:46AM (#28320187)

    Now when I pocket dial 911 there's even less chance of me pocket-disconnecting and more chance of my phone spouting emergency phrases!

    • by maxume (22995) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @11:58AM (#28320287)

      A big problem for you?

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Yes, this is a problem. I've known people with non-flip style phones who have accidentally dialed 911 while the phone is in their pocket. Even if you have your keypad locked, you can still dial 911. If the keypad gets hit, bumped, or stressed in the right way while in your pocket, it can manage to dial 911 and connect you without you knowing.

        Heaven forbid that you'd find out and try to disconnect the call.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Smurf (7981)

          Mmmmm... Do you realize that pocket dialing on an iPhone is way, way harder?

          Hints: The special gesture to unlock the phone. The fact that you normally have to navigate to the phone app and the numeric keypad (easy when you intend to, hard too do by accident. And, specially, the fact that the touch screen doesn't work through cloth.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by maxume (22995)

            It takes special talent to do it with a normal phone. I mean, shocker of all shockers, I carried a candy bar phone for a couple of years and never accidentally dialed, let alone accidentally dialed 911.

            • See my reply to the GP. Granted I've only done it once, but it's not all that difficult to do.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Lachlan Hunt (1021263)

              I accidentally dialed 000 (the emergency number in Australia) once on an old phone of mine because the phone allowed emergency numbers to be called without unlocking the keypad. I thought that was a really stupid feature, because it increases the chances of dialiing it accidentally and when it does happen, it just wastes the time of the emergency response staff who could be dealing with real emergencies instead.

            • by JimboFBX (1097277)
              NO, normal phones dont dial 911, they have special key combos that can get accidentally pressed. I had a nokia a few years back and accidentally dialed 911 on the keypad by pressing 0-8 when it is locked. None of the other keys function when it is locked, so all you have to do is put pressure on the lower corner of the phone and you get the 0, then just put flat pressure on the top and you get the 8, and do this within 3 seconds. If you have keys in your pocket or something this is rather easy to do. The 0
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by ColaMan (37550)

              000 is the emergency number in Australia, and it's quite easy to dial it in a pocket.

              There's been more than one occasion where I've checked the phone and it has "000" and "SEND" under the very large, central softkey. I always thought keylocks were there to, you know, lock the keys. Don't give me that crap about, "OMG ITS AN EMERGENCY YOU WONT HAVE TIME TO UNLOCK A PHONE" , just lock the damn keys like I told you to.

        • by Phroggy (441)

          Even if you have your keypad locked, you can still dial 911. If the keypad gets hit, bumped, or stressed in the right way while in your pocket, it can manage to dial 911 and connect you without you knowing.

          Good thing the iPhone doesn't have a keypad, then.

        • I've done it myself, I have a Blackberry pearl 8150 (I think). It's not hard to do, if I press a button while the phone is locked it pops up a menu to either unlock, dial emergency, or cancel. So in order to make an emergency call, I have to hit a button on the phone (any button) twice, once to de-idle it and once to bring up the menu, then the little ball chunk needs to be scrolled down to highlight the second choice, then either the ball or call button gets pressed. I got a phone call from a number tha

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by Debug0x2a (1015001)

            I've done it myself, I have a Blackberry pearl 8150 (I think). It's not hard to do, if I press a button while the phone is locked it pops up a menu to either unlock, dial emergency, or cancel. So in order to make an emergency call, I have to hit a button on the phone (any button) twice, once to de-idle it and once to bring up the menu, then the little ball chunk needs to be scrolled down to highlight the second choice, then either the ball or call button gets pressed. I got a phone call from a number that had about 16 digits that came from the local P.D. asking if there was an emergency and telling me to reset my phone.

            I don't know how the iPhone works, but you don't have to unlock my phone to make an emergency call, that's the one thing it will do if the phone is locked.

            Basically same story from me, however I figured out (the hard way) that on many phones dialing 08 is an emergency call to 911. Why... beats me. Its very easy to accidently hit 2 adjacent numbers at the bottom of my phone in sequence and then hit the largest button on the phone (the dial button) afterwards and not notice until you get an irate call from a dispatcher...

    • Now when I pocket dial 911 there's even less chance of me pocket-disconnecting and more chance of my phone spouting emergency phrases!

      Yeah, cue a lot of future 911 calls where caller sounds oddly robotic and either reports that he cannot speak or is having an asthma attack [macnn.com].

  • Not too bad.. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by log0n (18224) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @11:48AM (#28320203)

    Actually doesn't seem like that bad of an idea for a patent. Granted the system is full of abuse, but at least this one is well intentioned and could save a life.

    • Re:Not too bad.. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by GrpA (691294) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @11:53AM (#28320247)

      You mean only save the lives of iPhone users... Everyone who chooses a different phone will be punished to death for their arrogance...

      Sadly, this scenario seems more likely IMO given Apple.

      After all, if they intended to patent it "to stop others blocking it" they could just as easily have made it into prior art and it would have been cheaper to do.

      GrpA

      • Re:Not too bad.. (Score:5, Informative)

        by Theaetetus (590071) <theaetetus,slashdot&gmail,com> on Saturday June 13, 2009 @12:42PM (#28320617) Homepage Journal

        After all, if they intended to patent it "to stop others blocking it" they could just as easily have made it into prior art and it would have been cheaper to do.

        (Not that Apple is using this as a defensive measure, but if they were...) what's the easiest way to "make it into prior art"? And before you say "publish it", what's the easiest way to make it into prior art that the USPTO will be guaranteed to search? Easiest way is to file a nonprovisional application, let the USPTO publish it, and then abandon the app. Examiners always search the USPTO database for prior art... They don't always search other journals. So, while publishing it would help Apple invalidate a patent on this if someone else got the patent and sued for infringement, they would still have to go to court and fight an uphill battle - granted patents are presumed valid.

        So, other than a Statutory Invention Registration, the next best way to get something to be guaranteed prior art against anyone else is to file a nonprovisional and let the PTO publish.

      • Re:Not too bad.. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by TheSambassador (1134253) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @12:44PM (#28320621)
        Just because Apple has a patent on it, it doesn't mean that other phones won't have it. They may have to pay royalties, but most things on cell phones are patented.

        They're not going to be "punished to death for their arrogance," if their phone didn't have it then they're in the same situation as everybody right now, and probably most of the people with phones. This is an extra feature... if people want it, they can buy phones with it.

        I don't think see most people using this as an "emergency" such as a life-threatening situation. I see people using this as an "emergency" as in they're wasted and their phone is dead and they need to call for somebody to pick them up, or the "emergency" of being bored with a dead phone.
        • by icebike (68054)

          But this feature should be MANDATED on all phones, not PATENTED by one manufacturer.

          There are some things that society needs to the extent that patents should not be granted. (Yes, I realize this is a pretty far stretch in the present case, and if the iPhone didn't have such a lame battery it wouldn't be a problem).

          But still, (obligatory car analogy) are crumple zones in the front of automobiles patented? Are seat belts patented. Is the yellow line down the center of a roadway patented?

          Unless or until we

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by sarahbau (692647)

            Are crumple zones patented? Yes. Are seat belts patented? Yes. Just because they're patenting it, it doesn't mean they're doing so in order to sue people. Most patents are used to prevent the company from being sued.

      • Re:Not too bad.. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by TheVelvetFlamebait (986083) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @12:52PM (#28320687) Journal

        You mean only save the lives of iPhone users... Everyone who chooses a different phone will be punished to death for their arrogance...

        Ah, but we can't assume that such measures would exist without apple. If not having this does so much damage, perhaps we should be thankful that it exists at all, that we even have an option of using it.

      • by Thaelon (250687)

        Except we already know the patent system ignores prior art.

      • by WiiVault (1039946)
        While I see your point. It is important to realize that most successful patent trolls today are able to secure their patents even with existing prior art. Apple would be unwise to rely on that since they themselves have been victims of many trolls who have patented things Apple did years ago like folders, or transferring data over a network.
      • You mean only save the lives of iPhone users... Everyone who chooses a different phone will be punished to death for their arrogance...

        More likely would be that Apple would propose this as an industry standard, and license it to all the other manufacturers. Look at Firewire--Apple owns the key patents, and yet you can find Firewire on non-Apple hardware.

      • if they intended to patent it "to stop others blocking it" they could just as easily have made it into prior art and it would have been cheaper to do.

        You're assuming the legal fees associated with a bogus lawsuit brought on by a patent troll somewhere down the line is cheaper than just getting the patent in the first place. Wrong.

    • Re:Not too bad.. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MLCT (1148749) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @11:53AM (#28320249)

      but at least this one is well intentioned and could save a life.

      Not if phone manufacturers are dissuaded from adding this feature because they would either have to pay Apple royalties or risk being sued by them. In that case the fact that it has been patented may actually cost lives.

      If Apple came out and guaranteed royalty free licensing for all then it would be a positive move for society.

      • Re:Not too bad.. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by vux984 (928602) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @12:00PM (#28320297)

        Not if phone manufacturers are dissuaded from adding this feature because they would either have to pay Apple royalties or risk being sued by them. In that case the fact that it has been patented may actually cost lives.

        The obvious counter argument is that it wouldn't have been worked on in the first place because it would have given them no competitive advantage without the patent, so the 'life saving feature' would never have been developed, and those "lives would not have saved".

        • Re:Not too bad.. (Score:4, Insightful)

          by hedwards (940851) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @12:05PM (#28320331)
          The obvious argument is that we've had phones that do that, they've just gone out of favor as cell phone companies have largely stopped releasing basic phones.

          With the added bonus of not having to pay patent ransom or waste battery with bullshit functions you didn't really want in the first place.
          • Re:Not too bad.. (Score:4, Insightful)

            by vux984 (928602) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @12:37PM (#28320577)

            The obvious argument is that we've had phones that do that, they've just gone out of favor as cell phone companies have largely stopped releasing basic phones.

            Those aren't affected because they don't violate the patent. The patent covers shutting down extraneous features, not 'not having them to begin with'.

            With the added bonus of not having to pay patent ransom or waste battery with bullshit functions you didn't really want in the first place.

            So buy one of those phones then, if you want one. They are still out there.

            • by hedwards (940851)
              You're missing the point, the post was a matter of avoiding the consequences of the patent. It's a much better solution to just not get a phone with unwanted features than to pay ransom money on a patent for temporarily disabling them if you're needing to call 911.

              Personally, that's probably what I'll do, the problem tends to be that there's this huge gulf between full function and basic which isn't very well populated. Which is completely ridiculous considering that only a minority of cell phone users a
          • The obvious argument is that we've had phones that do that, they've just gone out of favor as cell phone companies have largely stopped releasing basic phones.

            With the added bonus of not having to pay patent ransom or waste battery with bullshit functions you didn't really want in the first place.

            But we don't have phones that do this. Just because those features are useless to you doesn't mean they're useless to everybody. By allowing a phone to have apps and services with the added bonus of low power

          • by westlake (615356)

            With the added bonus of not having to pay patent ransom or waste battery with bullshit functions you didn't really want in the first place.

            It's become quite difficult to avoid adds for the Jitterbug -
            at least as you approach a certain age.

            But the feature-rich multifunction cell phone sells. It solves too many problems - and eliminates too many other gadgets that you would otherwise be carrying.

            The cell phone can be your navigator, your portable radio, your game machine, your video player and your access to

        • Re:Not too bad.. (Score:4, Insightful)

          by YourExperiment (1081089) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @12:18PM (#28320437)

          "Worked on"? While it's easy to say this with hindsight, all of the ideas that make up this "emergency mode" are pretty obvious. It did not require anyone to "work on" them. The patent covers the fact that the phone will do these things (the easy part), not the technical details of how it will do them (the hard part).

          I have no objection to Apple protecting the hardware and software that allows their phone to do these things. I object to them being able to stop others from implementing these obvious ideas without paying royalties, and thereby ensuring that less phones will have these features in the long run than would otherwise be the case.

        • This is one of the problems with the patent system (yes, I know, everybody likes to say that). They are patenting the idea, not a process or design. For once Apple came up with a legitimately good idea, and they are almost certainly going to abuse it. If they want to patent the process or design, which was the intent of the patent system, it wouldn't be a problem....other companies would certainly develop the same concept with their own handsets (which wouldn't match the iphone design for a number of obv
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by DannyO152 (544940)

          I think this is a sensible idea - it is software as is any process where a program assesses a situation, so it shouldn't be patentable in my opinion - and I hope that this is being patented defensively and will be implemented widely.

        • by icebike (68054)

          The obvious counter argument is that it wouldn't have been worked on in the first place because it would have given them no competitive advantage without the patent, so the 'life saving feature' would never have been developed, and those "lives would not have saved".

          The obvious counter argument, like so much else of what SEEMS obvious, is false.

          If Apple had a decent battery life they would not need such desperate measures. This gives them no real advantage (only an advertising advantage), all it does is get them some slight bit less far behind the battery life of regular phones.

          People invent the vast majority of things out of personal curiosity. (Like wireless telephones for example: http://www.google.com/patents?id=tMxIAAAAEBAJ&printsec=abstract&zoom=4&s [google.com]

      • Can you patent something and then guarantee royalty-free licensing? Maybe even no-need-to-ask, "cite and go" licensing or something like that? If so, we should be cranking these out 24x7!
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by whisper_jeff (680366)
        I doubt they'll grant royalty free use but I do suspect they'll assure competitors "you don't get twitchy with your patent portfolio and we won't get twitchy with ours." Sorta like most major companies already do - using patents as defense against other company's patents...
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by kelzer (83087)

        There are plenty of patents related to automobile airbags. Hasn't stopped them from becoming pervasive.

        These days patents aren't about differentiating your product, they're about protecting yourself from infringement charges from others through cross-licensing agreements. The bigger your patent portfolio, the more leverage you have.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by drinkypoo (153816)

          There are plenty of patents related to automobile airbags. Hasn't stopped them from becoming pervasive.

          That's because airbags have been mandatory in the US since 1999, and actually since 1990 (for the driver) in vehicles without automatic seatbelts. (which explains to me finally why my 1989 Nissan 240SX had them, when in Canada you could get normal, inoffensive manual shoulder belts.)

      • by adisakp (705706)

        Not if phone manufacturers are dissuaded from adding this feature because they would either have to pay Apple royalties or risk being sued by them.

        There are plenty of patents on airbags, stability control, intermittent wipers, antilock breaks, etc. for the safety features on cars. That doesn't stop manufacturers from offering those features.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by skroops (1237422)

        If Apple came out and guaranteed royalty free licensing for all then it would be a positive move for society.

        Are you serious? Why would apple invest time and money in developing a technology only to give it away for free? The entire submission is a troll. There are literally thousands [patentstorm.us] of patents on 911 technologies. Just because 911 is a public service doesn't mean that it exists in a vacuum of altruism; people still spend money and make money deploying and developing these technologies, so naturally there are patents. And like any other market, if it is useful and desired by the consumer, it should be profit

      • by kgruscho (801766)

        It would also be excellent PR for apple to provide this to the community. I could easily see them giving this away. It would be entirely in accordance with their brand that markets itself on: innovation, thinking different, being green.

        I do that they would expect to get more iphone sales by adding this feature, but by developing this feature better and before everyone else, their brand looks great.

    • by Jamu (852752)
      Unless there's a bug in the system. In which case, your phone stops working when you need it the most. I can't help thinking that better power saving in normal operation might be a better solution. Easier to find bugs in normal operation too.
      • by jgrahn (181062)

        Unless there's a bug in the system. In which case, your phone stops working when you need it the most. I can't help thinking that better power saving in normal operation might be a better solution. Easier to find bugs in normal operation too.

        Exactly. 911 calls would now be executed in a brand environment which most phones never enter. If you're lucky, the phone vendor has tested 911 calls, but it hasn't seen much real field testing. And dead people don't file bug reports ...

    • by Mikkeles (698461)

      What's the discovery, invention, or innovation here? Degraded mode operation has been around for many, many years now.

    • by iamhassi (659463)
      "Actually doesn't seem like that bad of an idea for a patent. "

      As strange as this may sound I've been thinking a lot about this lately. I recently purchased a touchscreen Windows Mobile 6.1 smartphone and shortly after had a dream where I needed to dial 911 but key hitting the wrong touchscreen keys. I have a hard time when it's not an emergency, with the screen not recognizing input, adding or leaving out digits, so I can easily see where it would be very tough during and emergency, even if it is just
    • by speedtux (1307149)

      Granted the system is full of abuse, but at least this one is well intentioned and could save a life.

      A patent means that fewer companies can implement the technique than if Apple hadn't applied for a patent. So, in fact, this is saying "screw you and die" to non-iPhone users.

    • Which 4 people think that's insightful? If Apple was well-intentioned then they would just make it a feature, and announce that they're making it a feature. The only reason they would patent this is to stop their competitors from using it. It's not an excuse to say that they would patent it to stop someone else from doing the same and then charging them, because surely no company is a big enough douche to patent emergency mode on a cell phone.

      Thanks, Apple.

  • by sakdoctor (1087155) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @11:49AM (#28320209) Homepage

    That would squeeze the last drop of energy out of the batteries, by stabbing them and causing a small explosion to attract help.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by jo42 (227475)

      That's called "smoke signal mode". I believe indigenous North American peoples have prior art on this...

  • by Norsefire (1494323) * on Saturday June 13, 2009 @11:51AM (#28320223) Journal
    The protagonist is being tracked using GPS locked onto their phone, they realise this and dial 911 which puts the phone into a low power state and kills the GPS signal.

    Trust me, it's a lot more exciting than just turning the phone off.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by mrstrano (1381875)

      It might be better to keep the GPS on in situations of 'extreme' distress. Let's assume you are so sick you can't even talk. Then when you call 911 the phone might recognize you are not talking and synthetise a message saying for example 'The owner of this phone appears to be in extreme distress and at this moment the GPS says that he is at X address. Please send an ambulance at the address'.

      You could apply the same concept to action movies too. Like Jack Bauer being trapped and unable to talk that calls CI

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by PPH (736903)

        Like Jack Bauer being trapped and unable to talk that calls CIA head quarters

        Also known as Kiefer Sutherland drunk dialing.

  • by Teun (17872) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @11:53AM (#28320251) Homepage
    I have trouble accepting this type of Good Idea needs to be patentable.

    But then, when the same institution makes computer algorithms patentable maybe I shouldn't be surprised.

    This is very much comparable to the One Click fiasco, you get a couple of desirable but common applications linked to a single action and Bingo!

    • by volpe (58112) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @01:34PM (#28321005)

      Patents should cover an apparatus or method (the "how"), not the idea (the "what").

      Every patent application should first identify the "what", and then identify the "how". If the "how" is obvious after being told the "what", then the "invention" is obvious, no matter how novel or non-obvious the "what" is.

    • by Kamineko (851857)
      Given this is an Apple article, don't you mean 'and 'Boom!' [youtube.com]'?
  • There is a little girl in a red riding hood that needs help. Here is a real life story: http://vimeo.com/3514904 [vimeo.com]

    She is under attack from a wolf, and would need a phone, without patent restrictions.

    Will Apple's move have that girl killed? What do the iPhone dudes think of, really?

    • by causality (777677)

      Will Apple's move have that girl killed? What do the iPhone dudes think of, really?

      Money.

  • by legirons (809082) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @12:02PM (#28320307)

    would "unncessary power use" include loud audible alarms [slashdot.org]?

  • by Grond (15515) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @12:12PM (#28320389) Homepage

    Many posters have already suggested that this should not be patentable because it's a potentially life-saving feature. Critical reflection shows why that argument does not hold much water.

    A new treatment or cure for a fatal disease is also life-saving, but few would argue that drugs should not be patentable.

    Alternatively, consider the invention of the automatic external defibrillator. This is also a life-saving device, and much of its utility stems from software and an effective user interface (e.g., spoken commands to the user), but there are no calls to force AED technology into the public domain.

    Careful reading of the patent application shows that its essential features could be replicated on any smart phone and a subset could even be implemented on a non-smart phone. The fact that phone manufacturers have not implemented these features in the decade or so that it would have been possible to do so suggests two possibilities: One, that the features are actually not that useful or important; Two, that the features and their implementation here are actually far from obvious.

    If the former is the case, then we shouldn't care about the application because it pertains to something of such limited value that the dozens of phone manufacturers and telecom companies never saw fit to implement it. If the latter is the case, then Apple is rightly to be rewarded for developing a useful feature and, presumably, bringing it to market. Without patent protection, Apple is much less likely to invest time and effort developing new features for its products, including potentially life-saving features like this one.

    Finally, I think we should withhold our ultimate judgment until the patent is granted or denied. The examination process may turn up prior art that blocks the application entirely or it may cause the claims to be substantially narrowed. Faced with a less than optimal patent, Apple may abandon the application. This story is a bit like judging a piece of software based on an alpha version.

  • Prior Art? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cnaumann (466328) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @12:19PM (#28320447)

    I have turned off the AC in my car and reduced my speed in the hopes that I could get to a gas station before running out of gas. Isn't that about the same thing?

    How about a car with an emergency reserve gas tank that is activated by a lever inside the car?

    I suppose that running the batteries completely flat may harm them. Basically they are claiming a patent on overriding the shutdown feature designed to protect the batteries and using a low power mode. That does not seem original. Granted, coupling this with a 911 call is kind of clever.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I think you'll find that most patents are actually ridiculously specific. If you tried to claim prior art with that car analogy, you'd be laughed out of court.

    • by westlake (615356)

      Isn't that about the same thing?

      Your car analogy isn't prior art.

      It is simply suggestive, it might get someone thinking.

      The idea isn't what you patent. It's the machine - or system - that you patent.

    • by PPH (736903)

      How about a car with an emergency reserve gas tank that is activated by a lever inside the car?

      Prior art. Go find an old Volkswagen Beetle.

    • I think that if you could just use a car analogy as a claim to prior art, nothing would be patentable.
  • There are many examples of electronics devices being dropped into power save mode for one reason or another. This one can be walked over using prior art examples.

    Move on everyone, nothing exciting going on here.....

  • How are they going to QA this in a production setting? Stage kidnappings? Bombings? I'd stay clear of the next Mac World. Shit's going DOWN!

  • by DrDitto (962751) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @12:24PM (#28320477)
    I used to work for a major cellphone manufacturer.

    Cellphones already go into a special emergency mode. All phones definitely scan for more towers beyond those in the PRL list (preferred roaming list). I believe phones may also increase Tx power if battery is good and the CDMA noise floor is high.

    One big problem I recall: it is not as well tested. The Verizon phone guys aren't going to yell "do you hear me now" at 911 operators. We had once instance where it was discovered that the 911 mode had a software bug and caused the phone to crash. That caused an immediate "stop ship". We definitely had to improve the synthetic 911 testing environment...
    • Mod parent up. (Score:5, Informative)

      by Animats (122034) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @12:50PM (#28320675) Homepage

      Mod parent up. Most of this is already standard, and mandated by the FCC. The new stuff is just some iPhone-specific problems that Apple has to deal with. All the nonessential guck in the phone needs to be switched off during emergency calls.

      911 calls have at least the following FCC-mandated features.

      • Billing problems must be bypassed. 911 calls must go through even if the cell phone has no account, the billing system is down, the phone is roaming out of area, or the local provider can't contact the home provider for billing passthrough.
      • Transmit power management is disabled. Cell phones go to full power in emergency mode. (Yes, battery drain goes up.)
      • If the phone cannot connect to a cell site of its own system, after 17 seconds it must try to connect to any cell site of any system it can reach. Phones used to fall over to analog roam when necessary, before analog AMPS went down.
      • GPS information is transmitted.
      • A higher QoS is specified within the cell phone network, so emergency calls get in ahead of non-emergency traffic.
      • The call is not easily disconnected until the emergency operator releases it, although there's usually some way to force disconnect from the cell phone end.

      It's not like Apple just invented "emergency mode".

      • Most of this is already standard, and mandated by the FCC. The new stuff is just some iPhone-specific problems that Apple has to deal with. All the nonessential guck in the phone needs to be switched off during emergency calls.

        ... It's not like Apple just invented "emergency mode".

        Sounds like they did, to solve those "iPhone-specific problems that Apple has to deal with". But it's not like Apple just invented dialing 9-1-1.

    • ... PRL list (preferred roaming list).

      This message was brought to you by the Department of Redundancy Department.

  • Not new (Score:2, Informative)

    by parlancex (1322105)
    Although it sounds like what they're proposing here has some good ideas, the concept isn't groundbreaking. My Blackberry has an emergency callback mode and I've seen in action once. http://na.blackberry.com/eng/deliverables/1487/About_Emergency_Callback_Mode_26287_11.jsp [blackberry.com]
  • Good idea (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nightfire-unique (253895) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @12:39PM (#28320597)

    No debate on the ethics of patents or patenting a potentially life-saving idea... but, there is a very interesting possibility here.

    LIPO/LIION batteries, if fully discharged, cannot be recharged (at least not safely, by an end-user). All modern electronics electronics that use rechargeable lithium include charge controllers which protect the battery from deep discharge, and overcharge. The discharge protection could be disabled in the case of a 911 call, and provide a significant amount of battery life (perhaps 5-10%) at the expense of the battery. The user could be briefly warned on-screen while placing the call that it could destroy the battery, but in a life or death situation, what's $50?

  • Come now.

    It isn't a big deal that it is a patent. The US government spends billions (trillions?) per year, in R&D, and on everything from warfare to space travel to disease control.

    There is no reason the government should not pass a bill, that states that any such patent as this (safety, public good), could have a value assigned to them by an arbitrator. Once assigned, the state would buy the patent, and release it for all phones in the US to use.

    Other governments could do the same.

    R&D costs, idea

    • by Grond (15515) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @01:05PM (#28320773) Homepage

      There is no reason the government should not pass a bill, that states that any such patent as this (safety, public good), could have a value assigned to them by an arbitrator.

      There are very good reasons why that's a bad idea. First, patent valuation is notoriously difficult. The literature on this is extensive and there are no good solutions, despite decades of research and a small fortune to be made from accurately valuing patents, which has many, many applications (e.g., determining R&D priorities, evaluating mergers and acquisitions, bankruptcy, etc).

      Second, what is well established is that the market is a very effective evaluator of the worth of ideas and technologies. Patents allow innovators to let the market decide on the value of their products and services, which also gives them invaluable feedback on the direction their future R&D should take.

      Finally, here is a hypothetical that demonstrates the above:

      Consider a world without SMS, circa 1995 prior to the widespread use of cellphones. Some enterprising engineer discovers a slice of bandwidth that can be used for sending short text messages and patents it. Now imagine that the primary use envisioned for this is the sending of emergency messages to a 911-type service, which is very useful for someone who can't hear or speak because of the nature of the emergency or because they are deaf or mute. Under your scheme, the patent is seized and an arbitrator would probably decide that this is worth some modest amount as an emergency service.

      Now, fast-forward 10 years and generalized SMS is an incredibly popular technology used for all kinds of purposes. Too bad for the inventor, of course, because neither he or she nor the arbitrator foresaw where the market would take the technology. If the property right had remained with the inventor, he or she could have licensed it to various phone manufacturers and telecoms and made a much more appropriate amount as SMS grew in popularity. Ex ante valuation of patents will always suffer such problems.

  • power (Score:5, Informative)

    by confused one (671304) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @12:52PM (#28320689)
    The important advantage people seem to be missing is the patent allows extended use of the battery. Li-Ion batteries have a discharge threshold, below which the cell is damaged and can not be recharged. The charge protection circuit usually cuts off the power, to save the cells, when this point is reached. In an emergency, it's a really good idea to be able to bypass this protection. It's an emergency, you're not going to care if you ruin the battery; but, you may care that you can get an extra 10-20% more talk time out of the battery.
    • And they get a $90 battery change as a bonus! Who says Jobs wasn't thinking?

      (Note: I suspect there will be a couple of orders of magnitude more use of this in either testing, or in cell-phone-addict-abuse, than actual use in emergencies. Serves them right if you ask me.)

  • I actually get really infuriated with my Verizon phone for giving me little to no warning when they're going to shut themselves off. What's even worse is that when I turn it on to try to make a quick call, it shuts off again without even letting me dial.

    I've been thinking about getting an iPhone next year, and a feature like this is very persuasive. Hopefully Apple will license this technology to other companies, or the competition will copy it.

  • by booyabazooka (833351) <ch.martin@gmail.com> on Saturday June 13, 2009 @01:13PM (#28320833)

    The phone's purpose is making phone calls. If a phone is low on battery power, and I'm making a call, by all means, ALWAYS cut power to non-essential components.

  • by tsa (15680) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @01:57PM (#28321191) Homepage

    I have the Chinese takaway programmed in my emergency button. You need that much more than 911 (or 112 in Europe).

  • by Toreo asesino (951231) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @02:02PM (#28321237) Journal

    this reminds me of an old phone I used to have that implemented perhaps the very opposite of this idea...

    It would vibrate to tell me the battery was running low in silent mode. Problem was just by doing that it actually used up the last of the power it was supposed to warn me about being low, effectively making it some kind of ironic suicide warning.

  • by deft (253558) on Saturday June 13, 2009 @02:15PM (#28321335) Homepage

    "It would disable 'non-essential hardware components' and applications on the phone, reduce power to the screen and potentially reduce the phone's processor speed. It also would make it harder to disconnect the call".

    That sounds alot like verizons business model for all their phones, emergency or not. Then you just pay more for to get them back.

  • The headline is misleading, even from reading the summary.

    the patent is not on 911 calls, it's on a dedicated "emergency mode" incorporating energy conservation and a customized interface.

    Nowhere does this allow apple to sue other companies or individuals for using other mobile devices in the case of an emergency.

    It's an interface patent, and while I don't agree with interface patents, the headline falsely implies the patent could endanger your life, rather than it just being a potentially frivolous one.

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