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Apple flexes its legal muscle as another patent won makes it harder for other smartphone platforms

Have you ever been in the middle of a phone call and had the need to quick switch applications, perhaps to check an address or a location on the map, well unless your using an iPhone, this handy feature might not be around for long.

Apple's legal might

We’re only half way through the week and Apple have already blocked HTC (and by extension Google) from utilizing a feature already implemented within Android (at least in the US), but now it appears that another such instance could disappear from any smartphone not touched by the hand of Apple.

Apple’s latest patent acquisition, entitled “Portable electronic device with graphical user interface supporting application switching”, is essentially a patent that refers to a smartphone’s ability to switch applications whilst in a phone call. Now that Apple own such a patent, it will become increasingly difficult for any rival smartphone OS’s (primarily Android) to sport such a feature or at least implement it elegantly.

The biggest issue faced by rivals of the Cupertino-based company, are the broad and somewhat vague descriptions of what this patent encompasses. What follows are the terms of the patent itself and CBR’s 5-point breakdown of the key aspects they address:

Portable electronic device with graphical user interface supporting application switching terms
A method, comprising: at a portable electronic device with a touch screen display: displaying on the touch screen display a first user interface for a phone application during a phone call; detecting activation of a menu icon or menu button during the phone call, in response to detecting activation of the menu icon or menu button, replacing the first user interface for the phone application with a menu of application icons including an icon for the phone application and an icon for a non-telephone application; maintaining the phone call while displaying the menu of application icons on the touch screen display; detecting a finger gesture on an application icon in the menu of application icons other than the phone application icon; in response to detecting the finger gesture on the application icon other than the phone application icon, displaying a corresponding application user interface on the touch screen display while continuing to maintain the phone call and modifying the corresponding application user interface to include a switch application icon that is not displayed in the corresponding application user interface when there is no ongoing phone call; detecting a finger gesture on the touch screen display on the switch application icon; and in response to detecting the finger gesture on the switch application icon, replacing display of the corresponding application user interface with the first user interface for the phone application while continuing to maintain the phone call.

CBS’s breakdown of the patent
1. During a call on a mobile device with a touch screen, with the phone user interface showing, the users touches either a menu button or an icon.
2. The device replaces the phone interface with a menu of application icons, including the phone icon.
3. A user’s finger gesture chooses another app.
4. The app’s interface comes up, all the while not dropping the call. The interface includes a “switch application icon” only when a phone call is occurring.
5. The user performs a finger gesture on the switch application icon, taking the user back to the phone interface.

No doubt rival developers will find ways around the issues here, but chances are, it won’t be easy and their solutions, not as pretty. Patent ownership is the hidden war fought between OEM’s, away from the high street marketing and TV advertising. We’ll have to see if this affects the likes of Android and it’s competitors, excluding iOS of course.

Do you find yourself using the app switching in call feature and would it be an inconvenience if you had to change the way you operate your phone? Let us know in the comments.

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