Apple, In a Rough World, Looks to Patent Some Protection

Apple is patenting technology to protect iPhones during a fall. It would do nothing, however, to protect them from the tough treatment of rivals.

It's a dangerous world out there for iPhones—and not only when Nokia CEO Stephen Elop is around.

Ride the New York City subways for a day and you'll see Apple's glass-and-aluminum beauty hidden in enough bedazzled, animal-patterned or otherwise simply gaudy protective cases to feel certain that the iPhone, as it's being interacted with daily, is a far cry from Steve Jobs' original modernist vision.

Apple is apparently aware of this. It's also aware that cases only do so much.

The iPhone maker has filed a patent with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for a system that would, as the smartphone falls, shift its center of mass, to help control the way it lands.

Apple Insider discovered the patent March 21—the day it was posted to the agency's site.

Titled a "Protective Mechanism for an Electronic Device," Apple describes the system as including a processor, a sensor that communicates with the processor and a protective mechanism.

"The protective mechanism is in communication with the processor and is configured to selectively alter a center of mass of the electronic device," states the patent. "Additionally, the device also includes an enclosure configured to at least partially enclose the processor and the sensor."

Were a device with glass on its front but not on its back to be accidentally knocked from a table, the system would ideally enable the device to reposition itself before impact.

The patent adds:

Other examples of the disclosure may take the form of a method for protecting a vulnerable area of an electronic device during a freefall. The method may include detecting a freefall of the device by a sensor. Then, determining via at least one sensor at orientation of the device. After the orientation of the device has been determined, estimating an impact area of the device. Then, selectively changing the orientation of the device via a protective mechanism, depending on the estimated impact area of the device.

Apple, it has been said and repeated, needs to come up with some new innovations if it is to hold back rival Samsung. Samsung is currently the world's top-shipping smartphone maker, though the Apple iPhone 5 is currently the world's best-selling single device.

Samsung introduced its newest flagship device, the Galaxy S 4, March 14. Among its features are sensors that will pause a video when they sense that the user has glanced away, and the ability to add sound to still photos.

But it's not even Samsung that has been vocal about Apple's need to freshen up.

BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins, promoting the BlackBerry Z10 in Australia March 18, told the Australian Financial Review that, with all due respect for what Apple accomplished, and for the innovation that the touch user interface represented, "The user interface on the iPhone ... is now 5 years old."

Heins added that the rate of innovation in the mobile device industry is so high "that if you don't innovate at that speed, you can be replaced pretty quickly."

And still it was Nokia CEO Stephen Elop who, recently, more literally beat up on the iPhone.

During an interview on Finnish television, Elop faced an interviewer who was relentless in his desire to know when Nokia planned to release a Lumia 928—a device that Nokia has yet to officially introduce, so Elop wouldn't acknowledge it.

At one point the interviewer finally pulled an iPhone from his pocket, telling Elop, "I don't want to have an iPhone, I want to have a Nokia phone, because I believe in you and I believe in Nokia ... But I want to have that 928. When do I get it?"

Elop, laughing and talking over him, said, "Look, I can take care of that for you—it's gone!" as he threw the phone from about knee level.

The iPhone landed with an audible thwack on what sounded to be linoleum. Some protective mechanism technology certainly wouldn't hurt.

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