Passive Ambient Input

I realized today that in almost all cases, the sort of ring I want my cell phone to use is related to the ambient noise in the room. If I’m in a quiet place, I want my phone to just vibrate, or ring very very quietly. If I’m in a club or a wedding reception, I not only want it to ring loudly, but I want it to vibrate too in case I can’t hear the ring. Medium noise levels usually call for medium-level rings. You get the idea. The problem is that I rarely remember to change my ring volume when I go from place to place. So I either miss a call because I couldn’t hear the phone ring, or I get embarrassed when it rings in church or something.

The phone could certainly combine this with factors like time of day, ambient light, and other pieces of data to make an even more intelligent decision. For instance, it’s really quiet while I’m sleeping, but it’s also dark and it’s also 3am. So just let me sleep.

Of course, the phone should have a way to change this, customize it, or override it, but I think overall it would be a really useful feature if it was done in an intelligent way.

10 Comments

  1. Posted March 23, 2007 at 6:09 am | Permalink

    So, how do you envision it working when the phone is in your pocket? It is dark, all the sound is muffled.

  2. Posted March 23, 2007 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    Good question. I think most simple condenser microphones would be able to hear well through denim or cotton or whatever. True, it would muffle the sound slightly, but I think most of the ambient sound would still be there. I used to slip a sock over my microphone when recording a song, as a cheap pop filter. It didn’t muffle the sound at all. True, denim is thicker than a sock, but only a bit. So the truth of that matter would be worked out in testing, most likely.

    The only way to do that more intelligently would be to use some kind of proximity sensors that tell the phone it is surrounded by stuff, and thus to assume the noise it hears is actually 10% (?) louder than it seems. To me, that seems a little dangerous. I think a problem like this would require some real-world testing and iteration to get it right.

  3. Posted March 23, 2007 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    Have you tried an escalating ringtone? Something that ramps up in volume over 20 seconds or so would probably work, provided you react and silence it quickly in a quiet place. You could then leave the phone at the loudest setting and hear it when it gets to the right level. Only drawback is people would have to wait longer if you’re in a loud place.

  4. POP
    Posted March 24, 2007 at 6:10 am | Permalink

    You are thinking in an “Apple”-like fashion, creative, practical, it just makes sense. I’m trying to master a new DVD – VCR recorder we got. It’s a Panasonic. I had a Sony before that but took it back because of some flaws. It’s clear from these two devices, made by excellent manufacturers, that they aren’t engineered by Apple. Learning to operate either requires reading and constantly referring to a medium sized book. There is little intuitive about them. The menus are confusing. What the book says the Sony could do, it couldn’t do, or stopped doing after the first day…with no explanation. That’s why it went back. So we’re stuck with equipment made by folks with PC minds. We’re stuck slogging with this crowd rather than soaring with an Apple mindset.

  5. Posted March 25, 2007 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    Considering you work for a phone manufacture do you think you should be talking about such things? 😛

  6. Posted March 25, 2007 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    Considering I know nothing about the iPhone other than what the public knows, I’m not worried. 😉

  7. eddie
    Posted March 27, 2007 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    Or what about a phone that can tell what setting you’re in and change the ringtone to fit the surroundings? Like if you’re watching an action flick it makes the sound of a gunshot, or in a meeting it makes the sound of snoring, or a restaurant, burping sounds, and if you’re in the bathroom it makes… you get the idea. The problem, of course, is that it may be too camoflaged to be noticed, which is when the escalating volume of your ringtone makes things interesting. Ha! This reminds me of a curious game people play in public places where you repeat a ‘certain’ word, usually of the human anatomy, incrimentally getting louder and louder until you’re yelling it. Now that’d be an effective ringtone!

  8. Mamalew
    Posted March 28, 2007 at 2:00 am | Permalink

    Hey, you missed another tech inovation that is all you need to get your cell phone to know where it is and you can program it for each location. Just use GPS relative settings.
    It’s simple.
    Moms know best

  9. Erik
    Posted April 2, 2007 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    Having the phone in a pocket wouldn’t affect performance of this fancy ringtone at all. Sometimes I can’t hear my phone _because_ it’s in my pocket (backpack, purse, etc). Seems like denim would muffle the sensor microphone as much as it would muffle the ringtone.

    Similar technology has been developed for bar/restaurant A/V systems. When the place is empty the volume is low. As the night goes on and the crowd gets larger and rowdier the volume keeps getting higher to compensate.

  10. Erik
    Posted April 2, 2007 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    Ooops. That last post only makes sense on opposite day. I failed to think that through enough.