Patents are like the green leafy vegetables of information technology -- vital to many companies' health, but they don't exactly make you line up at the dinner table with knife and fork in hand.
Apple patents, on the other hand, are more like hot fudge sundaes -- everybody crowds around the table with their spoons. And when the patents touch on the topic of sex, well, get out of the way if you don't want to get trampled.
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Yesterday, Apple received a patent for technology that allows it to read text messages before they're sent and censor or block them as needed. TechCrunch immediately described this as a patent on an "anti-sexting device" -- because the surest path to getting big Web traffic is to put the word "sexting" in a headline (you clicked on this story, didn't you?), despite the fact that "sexting" appears nowhere in the patent documents posted online. That was enough to incite the usual blogger stampede.
At first glance, this appears to be another weapon in Steve Jobs' somewhat selective anti-porn crusade -- you know, the one where the iPhone App Store bans images of semi-nude hotties found in hundreds of obscure apps, but allows similarly fleshy forms from Victoria's Secret, Sports Illustrated, and Playboy.
But it's really more cunning and capitalistic than that. The iPhone is already the uber-status symbol among the sub-18 set. If you're going to sell the thing teenagers covet most, you might as well make it more attractive to the people who'll end up paying for it -- i.e., the parents. The pitch that "our phones make your kids safer (as well as cooler)" beats the hell out of "it's time for a phone to save us from our phones."
The obvious questions, of course, are a) whether products based on this patent will ever see the light of an Apple "retina display," and ii) how they're likely to work in the field.
From the descriptions, it seems the filter can bleep out any terms you don't want appearing in the kids' texts. (Presumably, a corporation could use the same technology to keep sensitive information or the names of unreleased products from leaking out on employee iPhones.) It could block the message outright, substitute different words in place of the naughty ones, and/or alert parents their kids are up to no good. Apparently, it can even notify parents when their kids are using improper grammar in texts. (Cn U B-leeve that? Luzrs!)