Why Apple wants to be the Apple of your eye

Apple is keen on keeping an “eye” on you.

The word out Thursday from AppleInsider is that the Cupertino tech giant is again exploring so-called “gaze detection” for its iOS product line, filing a patent for eye-tracking technology that apparently can be used to toggle a device’s screen between active and dimmed, depending on whether the user is actually looking at the device.

Blogger Mikey Campbell points out that the move comes as a possible response to inroads by arch-rival Samsung to capture  the flag over this fledgling technology, a feature that could one day soon become second-nature to smartphone users everywhere.

Campbell writes that the patent could be:

 in response to Samsung’s latest Galaxy S4 smartphone, which boasts a similar feature dubbed “Smart Scroll.”

The report says the invention, published this week by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, is called “Electronic Devices With Gaze Detection Capabilities.”

Apple’s patent describes a system that leverages a portable’s front-facing camera to determine whether a user’s gaze is directed at the device. Also noted in the language is the use of an accelerometer which, when motion is recognized, shuts off the gaze detection circuitry.

In practice, if a user’s gaze is determined to be directed at the device, the screen will remain on and at relative brightness. Conversely, if a user’s gaze is found to have drifted away from the device, or if the accelerometer detects motion above a certain threshold, the screen is dimmed.

In some embodiments, the entire device enters standby mode when gaze conditions are not met. Once a user looks back at the display portion of the device, the portable moves out of standby and activates all functions. In addition, physical input like button presses can also trigger the device to return to an active state.

In one of the more intriguing scenarios, and one that seemingly mimics features of Google Glass, the technology could be employed to stop and start a video, simply by the user looking at or looking away from the screen.

For example, the electronic device may be performing a video playback operation while in the active mode. In this example, when the electronic device detects that the user’s gaze is no longer directed towards the electronic device, the electronic device may enter one of the standby modes, dim the display screen that was being used for the video playback operation, and pause the video playback operation. If desired, the electronic device may resume the video playback operation when it detects that the user has redirected their gaze towards the electronic device (e.g., towards the video screen).

Patrick May Patrick May (341 Posts)

With more than 30 years on the front line of daily American journalism, I'm currently a staff writer with the San Jose Mercury News, covering Apple and writing people-centric business stories from Silicon Valley.