Google Android Patent Filing Includes Voice, Pattern Unlock

Google has filed a patent application to test new ways of unlocking Android smartphones and tablets, according to the "Patently Apple" blog. These methods include icon and voice input.

Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) is working on new methods for allowing users to unlock Android smartphones and tablets built by Android OEMs, a move that could help Samsung and other OEM partners work around the "slide to unlock" method Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has patented.

Patently Apple€”which, as the title of the blog suggests, usually sniffs out Apple patent filings from the labyrinthine U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Website€”said Google is working on ways to let users unlock their phones with their voice and through using two icons.

Most computers, mobile phones and tablets require some form of light authentication an owner must provide to access the device in the event that it is lost or stolen. While computers require passwords, phones and tablets tend to ask for four-digit passcodes or some sort of gesture-based pattern to unlock the device.

One new method of secure device unlocking Google is proposing requires a user to drag and drop an application icon on top of an unlock icon on the touch-screen. This action then might also launch an application, such as Angry Birds or Gmail.

"In this two-icon dragging example, the motion may also be reversed, with the user starting at an unlock icon and dragging it to a command-related icon," Patently Apple noted in a Feb. 16 blog post.

Google proposed an alternative authentication method where a user enters a passcode, such as a PIN number, and then an audible password prompt that leverages the company's voice-recognition technology.

Google currently uses speech-recognition technology for its Voice Search and Voice Actions applications, available on most Android handsets.

Google filed the patent application in 2010, though the USPTO just published the document this month. However, Google told eWEEK these patent filings do not indicate the company will release those methods in products.

"We file patent applications on a variety of ideas that our employees come up with," a company spokesperson told eWEEK. "Some of those ideas later mature into real products or services; some don't. Prospective product announcements should not necessarily be inferred from our patent applications."

Even so, the secure unlocking methods show Google is testing alternatives to the slide-to-unlock approach Apple has sued Samsung and Motorola for allegedly copying. Apple, in fact, just secured an injunction in German court against Motorola for infringing on the company's slide-to-unlock patent in its Android devices.

The potential new technologies came to light months after Google launched its Face Unlock feature in Android 4.0, or Ice Cream Sandwich.

This feature uses facial-recognition technology, which works with the front-facing camera on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. Users scan a picture of their face in the phone's front-facing camera, then look into that camera every time they want to unlock it.