Your next phone might automatically go into "theater mode" when you're at the movies. Your smartphone will stay silent and the screen will go dim.
Microsoft (Tech30) just patented a way to make your phone less noticeable and disruptive when you're in certain environments (Microsoft calls it "inconspicuous mode"). You can use it at a movie theater, a dinner date or at home about to go to bed. ,
It's all based on the notion that your phone can annoy the person next to you -- especially if you're in a dark, quiet place.
Incoming message? Need to check the time? Got an unstoppable itch to check Instagram? You're about to bathe your neighbors in a monstrously bright light and set off a chain of irksome bleeps.
In "inconspicuous mode," sounds are gone, and the screen is a faint glow. Notifications don't show up on the home screen. The time is displayed in large numbers that are easier to glace at.
In Microsoft's description, you could tailor the "inconspicuous" display any way you like. Maybe it only shows text messages. Or it dims more than normal.
But the key feature is that it would be automatic. It would go into this mode if your phone's GPS detects you're at the location of a movie theater. Or if a restaurant's or stage theater's Wi-Fi or Bluetooth beacons tell it to. Or if your phone's light sensor detects darkness while the microphone also detects silence (like just before a movie starts playing).
To figure this out, the phone could even tap your calendar or your recent mobile payments. If you bought event tickets at the counter using tap-to-pay technology, your phone would know when to go quiet.
If this gets popular, venues will probably be quick to embrace it. Mobile phone use in theaters is so pervasive nowadays that brief "please silence your phones" requests are now full-blown, pre-movie short films. And every performance by the New York Philharmonic is preceded by a 30-second, pre-recorded plea by Alec Baldwin. It's downright embarrassing.
And no, theaters aren't going to start hijacking your phones. Microsoft's careful wording in its patent application shows that users retain control.
"The mobile communication device can exit the inconspicuous mode and return to the normal mode upon the user's request," it says.