A newly released patent filed from Microsoft shows that Windows and Windows Phone could be heading in an interesting direction. The patent, entitled "Personalized cloud of mobile tasks", describes a system in which access to commonly used tasks, frequently used apps, and contacts who are called most often, are made more easily accessible. It's a constantly-updating launcher idea that constantly adapts to how a device is used.
The patent describes how access to these commonly used tasks, apps, and contacts can be simplified and sped up through the display of larger icons -- the idea being that the more you use a particular app, the larger and more prominent its icon becomes. On the face of it, this is a very simple idea -- and it's one that was implemented in very basic form in older versions of the Start menu as frequently used applications gradually worked their way to the top of the list.
But the idea goes further: "The selection of displayed icons, the size, and the position of each displayed icon may reflect the relevance and importance to the user based on his/her activity. Other criteria that may impact the display of icons representing commonly utilized tasks may include time of day, location, context of use (e.g., driving vs. walking, at home vs. at work), who is nearby, who is available for communication (i.e., presence information) and the like."
So it is not just the frequency of use that determines whether an icon is displayed, and how prominent it is, but also the time of day, your location, and numerous other factors. If a particular contact is called at roughly the same time each week, a shortcut to make a phone call to them will appear at the relevant time. If you tend to call different people at the weekend, these contact will be made more accessible on Saturdays and Sundays.
The suggested dynamic icons can adjust in other ways as well. For example, if you are thinking of calling a work colleague, the icon could be updated to let you know that they are currently in a meeting or on another call. "Each displayed icon may also include status information relevant to the associated task. For example, if presence data for a called party accessible by the mobile device from an electronic calendaring application indicates the called party is not presently available for a phone call, such information may be displayed near the displayed icon," the patent filing states.
There is also talk of what sounds like widgets: "For example, if a user browses to a traffic information website every weekday between 8:00 am and 9:00 am, the [system] may track her routine of the traffic information website. If her access to the website meets a prescribed threshold, for example, more than twice in a given week, then a selectable icon representing the traffic information website may be displayed on the display screen."
In some regards the patent sounds slightly like Android launcher "Everything.me," which adapts to usage patterns -- but it seems to take things further. What is particularly intriguing is the cloud aspect of the idea. It opens up the possibility of synchronizing settings between devices. This would mean that it would not matter if you were holding your Windows Phone or a Windows tablet, if you (for example) tend to check your schedule mid-morning, your to-do app, or calendar will be made readily available. As you move into the evening and gaming becomes more likely, shortcuts relating to work will slide into the background to be replaced with more fun things.
It is not clear from the patent whether the automatic personalization works on a system-wide level, or on an app-by-app basis. It could well be the case that this refers to a future version of Windows, but equally it could a system that is implemented in individual apps. The patent also refers to vibration feedback, sound and LED notifications, opening up a world of possibilities.
Is this a system you would embrace, or do you prefer being able to manually configure things to your liking? Maybe you'd prefer a mixture of the two -- share your thoughts below.
Thanks to Alan for sending this in!