updated 10:40 pm EDT, Tue April 19, 2011
Call center data management patent awarded also
Two recent Apple patents may further enhance present and future iPhones in new ways big and small. One of the patents formalizes a method of wireless activation that would make it easier for consumers to activate phones with different carriers as well as reduce the need for SIM cards, while another imagines the iPhone's touchscreen as a radio-frequency identifier (RFID) key, making it possible for iPhones to things such as open hotel doors or initiate data transfers with a particular movement.
Patent number 7,929,959 describes a cardless method of activating a cell phone to a given carrier with or without SIM cards, advancing Apple's ongoing case that consumers would appreciate the freedom to be able to switch carriers easily, either while travelling or permanently. Currently, GSM-compatible phones mainly use SIM cards to identify a subscriber to a given network, and carriers often impose "locks" on the devices so that only SIM cards from that carrier may be used. Because the methods of locking and verification vary from carrier to carrier, it creates an added burden to the device manufacturer as well as the consumer.
Apple's patent describes a "signing" and "verification" process, with the former creating a "ticket" that incorporates private information unique to the phone itself (such as the International Mobile Equipment Identifier, or IMEI) and a hardware "thumbprint" of the device and stores it securely on the phone, and the latter re-performed wirelessly at each bootup or changing of the SIM card. Because the phone could hold multiple such tickets, multiple SIM cards or other carrier verification methods can be used to allow the phone to work with multiple carriers. The method could also work with SIM-less phones.
A second patent, 7,928,965, proposes adding RFID reader capability to iOS devices, allowing them to read RFID tags that are widely used in retail and service industries. The RFID antenna would be incorporated directly into the touch sensor panel, allowing it to become a full transponder. One example of the use of such a device would be to swipe an item's RFID tag over the iPhone, which causes it to identify the item and then gather details from the store's local network or the internet, similar to the way in which the iPhone app Redlaser can read UPC or QR barcodes and then gather additional information.
The ability for mobile phones to act as an RFID transponder would lower the cost of RFID for other uses and make widespread adoption much easier.
A further patent was awarded to Apple regarding information management in call centers. A database intelligently analyzes the queue and assigns calls to agents based on data gathered from the caller, and is designed to handle calls in medium- and large-volume call centers that are often spread out around satellite offices around the world. The network protocol Apple has devised would increase the efficiency with which calls are routed to the best call center based on various factors.