We've all been there: Your iPhone slips from your grasp or jumps from your pocket, and instead of landing on its case-ensconced back, it hits the ground face first. The once pristine screen is now covered in hairline cracks.
You can pay Apple out of pocket to replace the glass or turn to a third-party repair shop for a cheaper fix. Corning's forthcoming Gorilla Glass 4 is designed to prevent smartphone screens from shattering on impact, though it won't offer perfect protection from damage. But Apple has its own screen protection strategy in mind, if a new patent granted Tuesday is any indication.
The patent covers a "protective mechanism for an electronic device" that would use a motion sensor to tell the processor when your phone is in a freefall. The processor would then "alter the center of mass of the electronic device" so your phone wouldn't fall on its most sensitive parts like the screen or camera. So how will your device change its own center of gravity? Apple's patent covers some pretty neat techniques.
"The protective mechanism may vary the angular momentum and/or orientation of the device during freefall by activating a thrust mechanism. The thrust mechanism may produce a thrust force in one or multiple directions in order to reorient the device. For example, the thrust mechanism may include a gas canister that may deploy the compressed gas outside of the device to change its orientation. In yet another example, the protective mechanism may activate an air foil to change the aerodynamics of the mobile electronic device. The air foil may help to reduce a velocity of the free-fall of the device by producing a lift force."
The patent also covers a gripping mechanism in the audio port that would tighten around your headphones to slow the phone's fall.
Why this matters: Apple regularly applies for patents on technologies that never make it into the devices you buy, but this is one I personally hope becomes reality sooner rather than later. Just think of the time, money, and embarrassment you'd save if your phone could reorient itself to cushion its own fall.