Is This New Apple Patent Intended for the iWatch?

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

More evidence of Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) ongoing interest in the health and fitness products market was discovered in a recently published patent titled, “Method and Apparatus For Automatically Adjusting the Operation of Notifications Based on Changes in Physical Activity Level.” In the patent first spotted by AppleInsider, Apple outlined a method for a “processor-based personal electronic device” to adjust how it relays notifications based on the user’s detected activity.

While contextual notifications can be useful in a wide variety of situations, Apple’s patent seems to be particularly focused on its application for health-related purposes. For example, in the patent abstract, Apple noted that “an extended period of inactivity triggers a reminder to the user to get up, stretch, and move about.” In this sense, the iPhone or other electronic device would function as a fitness coach that encourages users toward healthier behaviors.

However, users won’t have to worry about their iPhones rousing them in the middle of the night for a few jumping jacks. Besides providing activity notifications at appropriate times, the device will also know when to leave you alone. As noted by Apple, “transitions in a user’s activity level may be used to trigger reminders and/or set the state of the device (such as a Do Not Disturb state wherein notifications and alarms are suppressed.)”

Although this patent uses the example of a smartphone, it also makes reference to remote sensors that are worn by the user and communicate wirelessly with a smartphone. While this could be a reference to a completely unknown activity tracking product from Apple, it might also be a veiled reference to the company’s fabled iWatch product. According to reports from several media outlets, the iWatch will feature multiple fitness-tracking and health-monitoring sensors that will measure everything from calorie consumption to sleep activity. As previously reported by 9to5Mac, Apple has hired dozens of experts from companies that specialize in noninvasive medical sensor technology, as well as fitness experts like former Nike (NYSE:NKE) FuelBand developer Jay Blahnik.

In the patent, Apple described various complex methods that the device would use to determine how and when to change its operational behavior. Besides processing data from “motion sensors, pulse rate sensors, breathing rate sensors, orientation sensors, ambient light sensors, proximity sensors, and location sensors,” the invention would also take into account the time of day or personal user data –such as calendar entries — to deduce an appropriate state of operation.

The current flagship iPhone 5S already includes an M7 motion coprocessor that changes its operation based on motion data that it receives from various sensors, including a gyroscope, a compass, and accelerometer. However, this patent’s reference to physical activity data and remote sensors offers hints that the device that this patent is intended for is something that would be continuously worn, such as a smartwatch. The iPhone’s use of the iWatch as a remote sensor for physical activity also aligns with some analysts’ predictions that the rumored wearable tech device will function as a peripheral accessory to the iPhone.

Since the iWatch will presumably relay notifications from the iPhone, it would make sense for the smartwatch to be “smart” about when it provides alerts. Otherwise the iWatch might become an annoyance to users, rather than an enhancement of the iPhone’s functions.

Apple fans will hopefully find out if this patent was intended for the iWatch before the end of the year. Many industry watchers have predicted that Apple will launch the iWatch sometime during the fourth-quarter, following the expected launch of the iPhone 6 in September.

Follow Nathanael on Twitter (@ArnoldEtan_WSCS)

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