Put Those Phones Down, Concertgoers, or Apple May Do It for You


Apple's filed multiple patents that deal with adding an infrared system to iOS devices. The idea is that an infrared transmitter at concerts could then disable the camera of any iOS device pointed at the stage. PYMCA/UIG via Getty Images
Apple's filed multiple patents that deal with adding an infrared system to iOS devices. The idea is that an infrared transmitter at concerts could then disable the camera of any iOS device pointed at the stage. PYMCA/UIG via Getty Images

Have you ever gone to a concert only to find you can't see the stage for the sea of smartphones held overhead by the people in front of you? Or popped on YouTube to watch a video taken at a live event, complete with awful sound quality and crowd response? Apple is working to change all that.

Apple's solution is to build an infrared system in iOS devices. Essentially, the camera on an iOS device would double as an infrared receiver. A venue or concert promoter could incorporate an infrared transmitter on the stage to send out an infrared signal. Any iOS device pointed at the stage would receive this signal, which would send a command to disable the device's camera. It's not that different from using a remote control to change the channel on a television set.

The technology could work in other venues as well, such as movie theaters. And it doesn't just have to shut down a camera; it could also turn a phone into an augmented reality device. Imagine directing your iPhone's camera at a sculpture in a museum. An infrared emitter mounted in the room beams a signal that provides additional data on your phone's display, giving you information about the artist, the techniques used to create the statue and more.

You might be worried that authorities like law enforcement could use this technology to prevent citizens from recording their activities. But the tech works best when you have a situation like the concert or museum examples — you know where the audience will be and so you point the infrared emitter in that direction. In real-world settings, it's hard to determine where someone will be at any given moment. Besides, it would only work on iOS devices.

Apple first filed for a patent on this technology way back in 2009. The patent was called "systems and methods for receiving infrared data with a camera designed to detect images based on visible light." The U.S. Patent Office granted a patent for that invention in September 2014.

The latest news is about a continuation patent filed in 2014. Continuation patents are meant to build upon or alter a previous patent to improve the chances of having that patent granted. The U.S. Patent Office granted this patent on June 28, 2016. So now Apple holds two patents that are about the same general invention.

Other companies are using a different approach to limit smartphones in settings like concerts. Startup company Yondr is popular with certain artists and venues. Their solution involves a special phone case. Concert attendees must place their phones in a soft case, which locks once they enter the venue. They get to hold onto their phones the whole time but the devices remain locked away. Leaving the venue unlocks the case.

Whether it's locking phones away or disabling key features with infrared commands, it looks like the days of smartphones held high may be numbered. And for a frustrated concert fan like myself, that's music to my ears.