In the Oscar-nominated movie "Her," a man in the not-too-distant future becomes intimately involved with an operating system that eventually gets to know him better than he knows himself.
Apple seems to be envisioning that type of digital-human relationship as it evidently explores a way to detect device-users' moods, and then send them tailor-made ads. A recent patent application discusses detection of moods based on blood pressure and heart rate or via facial recognition.
Would A Movie Cheer You Up?
Bored? Perhaps some suggestions from Netflix. Feeling romantic? How about sending flowers to your paramour? Lonely? Maybe an invitation to check out eHarmony or Match.com will help.
It's unclear, and perhaps unsettling to consider, what type of messages advertisers might tailor for people detected as angry or annoyed.
But Apple's application filed Jan. 23, first reported on by AppleInsider, comes as tech giants are looking for new ways to use personal information to show users the most relevant ads.
Companies like Google are already using location and search history, and Google Glass can track what you're doing in real time. Facebook judges from likes and keywords in user profiles and status updates. Microsoft's Kinect sensor for its Xbox gaming platform can also collect data about users and read facial expressions. And smart appliances can track our laundry and eating habits and preferences.
Apple claims the technology it hopes to patent "analyzes mood-associated characteristic data collected over a period of time to produce at least one baseline mood profile for a user. The user's current mood can then be inferred by applying one or more mood rules to compare current mood-associated data to at least one baseline mood profile for the user."
Neil Mawston, executive director of the global wireless practice at Strategy Analytics, told us this technology is a natural progression. "Contextual computing is in the very early phase of development today," he said.
A Sixth Sense
"Smartphones and wearables will eventually become our 'sixth sense.' Smartphones will increasingly be able to judge or predict our actions and serve up relevant content or adverts to match our personal everyday lifestyles," Mawston said.
He cited Google Now as an early example of predictive, contextual computing. "[It] senses or guesses intelligently what you are looking for and serves up an instant answer or choice," Mawston added. "Apple’s patent-filing for mood-based content is probably several years away from mass-market take-off, but it does give us a sneaky peek into the future."
The mood-sensor technology could be particularly useful to Apple if, as expected, it develops a so-called iWatch, which could easily be able to detect pulse, perspiration and blood pressure information, ostensibly for exercise-related applications.
The patent application argues that the new technology will be a step up over systems that rely on only a general understanding of the user state of mind which "can lead to periods of time where the targeted content delivery is misaligned, thereby resulting in decreased satisfaction for both the content provider and the content receiver."