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New Apple Patent Adds More Flare to iOS' Improved Notifications


Sporting its own low-power illumination elements, a recently patented iPad Smart Cover can display push notifications even with the screen covered.

At last week's Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) showed off some of the many improvements and wholly new features that will come packed into iOS 8. And yes, while quite a few of them were either inspired by -- or directly lifted from -- Android (NASDAQ:GOOG), these new features add much polish to some of the aspects of iOS that have been feeling stale or even antiquated for years.
And none have felt more outdated than notifications.
Still relying on pop-up windows that obscure your current task like an ad in Internet Explorer (NASDAQ:MSFT) circa 1996, the way iOS handles notifications has trailed Android's drop-down panel for quite some time. And although Apple has implemented its "own" sliding Notification Center, there was still much room for improvement.
Thankfully, Apple announced actionable notifications in iOS 8, which will allow users to complete an action directly from the notification without having to open the corresponding app. So receiving a text message will no longer require you to open up the Messages app to reply; it can be done completely on the fly, and you'll never lose your place in your current app.
But while this new feature greatly improves upon the existing system, there's one thing that comes standard on most Android devices that remains missing from iOS devices: notification lights.
In order for iPhone users to see if they received emails, texts, or any other push notifications, they have to manually power their screens on and check for updates. Meanwhile, Android phones have flashing lights, LEDs color-coded to specific actions, even detailed on-screen notifications that offer at-a-glance updates to new messages.
However, according to a new patent, some iOS users may soon have illuminated notification indicators of their very own.
This week, Apple Insider reported on a patent recently filed by Cupertino for an "integrated visual notification system in an accessory device." Specifically, it's an iPad Smart Cover equipped with illuminating elements that can alert the user of incoming messages, low battery warnings, and other notifications via its built-in LEDs or electroluminescent panels -- even when the iPad's screen is covered.
Using a variety of light-up icons, shapes, and words built into its surface, the Smart Cover will alert the user to specific notifications that are pushed to the device. So a new email, for example, will trigger an envelope icon to light up. If the email's marked as important, it could be shaded red or overlaid with an exclamation point and placed higher than other less urgent emails. Additionally, for something more detailed, like a calendar appointment, the Smart Cover may also illuminate information such as date, time, and location.
The patent explains that the accessory could be powered and controlled by a MagSafe cable or electric contacts, or it might use inductive charging and wireless protocols rather than a hardwired connection to the iPad or another source.
Unfortunately, there's no guarantee that such a product -- or even one like it -- will ever make it to market. But given the attention and improvements that Apple has shown its flagging notification system, the company probably doesn't want Google to have an edge in any aspect of a mobile operating system or its designated hardware.
Notification lights and screens have proven to be invaluable for millions of users. Apple shouldn't deny them to millions more.
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