updated 11:20 pm EST, Thu February 16, 2012
Google tries for Android unlock by voice, icons
Google is now known to have been actively seeking patents on unlock techniques that would help avoid the legal clashes with Apple that have hurt Motorola and others. The patent filing for an "Input to Locked Computing Device" includes multiple possible techniques to get access to an Android phone. One of the core techniques would be a reverse of the ring unlock technique in HTC's Sense 3.0: users would drag an app icon to a screen area that then launches the app.
Another approach would use a two-step approach to launch a search immediately after a password prompt. Android would take a voice search from the lock screen, but ask for a keyboard-based password after and only start the search later.
A third appears to be directly connected to the radial unlock from Android 4.0 devices, where users drag from a center point out to an action. The new method would have users string together multiple steps, such as first dragging to the app icon and then to a second action icon to signal an intention to launch it. Those that wanted could use their voice instead and even specify information to use with the app, such as telling it to e-mail a specific person after the unlock.
The published but as yet ungranted patent was originally filed in early August 2010, when Android 2.2 was still new and most of the similar concepts from Google itself and HTC were roughly a year away. They do show that Google was already starting to think about unlock-related patent conflicts in 2010 and that the USPTO is just now catching up. One of the key inventors behind the patent is Romain Guy, a Senior Software Engineer at Google and one of the most influential mobile architects in the company.
That Android currently doesn't use the exact implementations in the patent is unusual and possibly fateful, since Apple's latest lawsuit includes a much more recent patent that potentially affects Android 4.0. [via Patently Apple]