Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has filed for a new patent that got its inspiration from an unlikely place: the classic answering machine. Patent No. 8,666,034 is titled “audio call screening for hosted voicemail systems” and will allow iPhone users to screen calls by listening in on a voicemail while the caller is leaving the message.
Back in the good ol’ days of landline phones, one could wait for an answering machine to pick up a call and then listen to caller leaving a voicemail to determine whether to answer the call. The voicemail usually told you not only who was calling but why. If it was important, you could pick up while the person was leaving the message. Apple’s patent will allow you to do the same thing with your iPhone.
A report from AppleInsider says that the patent is likely an assignment related to the Rockstar consortium that Apple is a part of along with other tech companies, including Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY), and Sony (NYSE:SNE). The consortium bid $4.5 billion to acquire about 6,000 Nortel patents in 2011. Some of the patents have been used in litigation against Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Samsung (SSNLF.PK).
The patent involves sending voicemails to a hosted voicemail system. If a user wants to listen in on the voicemail as the caller is leaving it, a conference call is set up between the user, caller, and voicemail system. While a user is listening in on the voicemail, that person’s own speaker will be off or muted so that the caller can’t hear the other line. If a user decides to answer the call as a voicemail is being left, the connection to the voicemail service is severed and a new one is established between the user and the caller, with the microphone reactivated.
The technology could be put to use in the iPhone 6. Even though the iPhone 5S and 5C were just released in the fall, rumors are already swirling about the technology that could be included in the new generation of the device. It’s expected to come in two larger screen sizes and have a sapphire display.
The ability to screen a voicemail isn’t nearly as exciting as other iPhone 6 developments, but this is piece of old landline technology that would actually be useful to have in smartphones. While caller ID has often made using voicemail to see who’s calling you unnecessary, people still receive calls from unfamiliar numbers. Listening in on a voicemail to determine whether to answer a phone call could prove to be surprisingly handy on a regular basis for some users.
The rise of smartphones has ironically caused people to talk on the phone less while using other forms of communication, like texting, more frequently. As people become more phone-shy, the ability to screen phone calls using voicemail is an appealing feature.
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