MacRumors notes that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has published "several dozen" patent applications this morning including an interesting one that covers object and facial recognition, messaging, and voice modulation.
Unwired View took a closer look at one patent filed on March 8th, 2008 which describes how Apple could incorporate facial detection and recognition technologies into an iPhone, iMac and other devices.
One use-case for the technology would allow the device to determine whether a user is actively or passively interacting with the device. For example, preventing the iPhone's auto-lock timeout from engaging when a user is actively watching a movie or video.
The other more obvious use for the facial recognition technology would be as a means to control access privileges to an Apple device. Much like the Apple's biometric patent that was discovered last week, the facial recognition algorithm could use the iSight camera built into all Macs (except the mini) to determine a user's identity and allow them to log in just by mugging for the camera.
The technology could also be linked to Apple's built-in parental control software to allow parents to restrict access privileges on a Mac used by children. It could even provide limited, guest access to a Mac to an unrecognized user or, alternatively, shut the machine down or even phone home when an unrecognized user attempts to access the device.
It's not hard to imagine Apple extending the functionality of its popular Find My iPhone feature to its notebooks and even desktop computers to help the recovery of lost or stolen Mac hardware.
The object recognition patent describes how a mobile device user could detect an object via camera, RFID sensor or other means and have their device automatically identify and provide additional information on the object. The artwork accompanying the patent (above) shows how a user could use the technology to identify a painting by Monet, but the killer application would be for identifying retail products for doing price comparisons.
The features would certainly add some sizzle and sex appeal to the already hot iPhone, but could be quirky without a forward-facing camera. Also, I'm wondering how strong the algorithm is and if, for example, it could be fooled by a high-resolution color photo of an authorized user held in front of the camera.
Other patent applications filed by Apple include text message filtering, a smart messaging interface and changing the voice output on the iPhone.