Innovation Sighting – Apple's Use of Attribute Dependency in iPhones

Innovation Sighting - Apple's Use of Attribute Dependency in iPhones“The Quiet TimeTM Universal System turns cell phones off automatically in designated areas such as theaters, hospitals, doctor’s offices, and business meeting rooms. Our patented technology converts your incoming calls to text messages and alerts the cell phone owner.”

This may sound like the latest gizmo you would see at the Consumer Electronics Show. It is actually an invention created by my students using Systematic Inventive Thinking…in 2007, the year the iPhone was first released. Five years later, Apple has been awarded a patent described as an “apparatus and methods for enforcement of policies upon a wireless device.” It reveals a way to change aspects of a mobile device based on certain events or surroundings.

As reported by CNET:

“Imagine a mobile phone that automatically turns off its display and sounds when it senses that it’s in a movie theater. For example, the phone could disable its own noise and display if it knows it’s in a theatre. It could be prevented from communicating with other devices if it detects that it’s in a classroom. Or it could automatically go into sleep mode if entering a sensitive area where noises are taboo. In a typical scenario, the mobile device would communicate with a network access point that enforces a certain policy, such as putting the handset on mute. Users could have the option of accepting or rejecting a connection with the access point based on the policies. A single access point could also offer multiple policies.”

Innovation Sighting - Apple's Use of Attribute Dependency in iPhones

This is a classic example of the Attribute Dependency Technique, one of five in the SIT innovation method. You can spot Attribute Dependency concepts immediately when you see one aspect changing as another changes. In this new patent, Apple calls it “situational-awareness” technology.

Attribute Dependency differs from the templates in that it uses attributes (variables) of the situation rather than components. Start with an attribute list, then construct a matrix of these, pairing each against the others. Each cell represents a potential dependency (or potential break in an existing dependency) that forms a Virtual Product. Using Function Follows Form, we work backwards and envision a potential benefit or problem that this hypothetical solution solves.

Attribute Dependency is a versatile tool, and it explains the majority of new products as reported in the research by Dr. Jacob Goldenberg.  I used it to create a lot of new concepts for the iPhone in my September 2008 blog posting.  In each of these concepts, look for the telltale sign of Attribute Dependency: as one thing changes, so does another.

image credit: using binoculars image from bigstock

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Drew BoydDrew Boyd is Assistant Professor of Marketing and Innovation at the University of Cincinnati and Executive Director of the MS-Marketing program. Follow him at and at

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  1. Sunny Bunny on September 6, 2012 at 3:41 am

    Good concept, I have been using this for quite a while on my windows Mobile phone. That’s based on the Cell Tower (BTS-ID). Like moment I enter office it will turn my phone to meeting mode and when I go back home it would turn it to Ring mode. Though it worked practically with this coarse approach based on the location and good part was that it doesn’t need a lot of extra battery power. Though more accurate placement could be done using the battery.
    Would be interested to see how Apple is achieving more precise locations.

  2. Richard Berman on September 6, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    Professor Boyd,

    Lifelong innovator and inventor, holder of 38 patents, Dr. David Pensak says:

    “Unless you come down with Alzheimer’s, or are elected to Congress, your ability to solve problems improves with each passing year.”

    David is 64 and still inventing, but his urge to innovate was actually sparked at a very young age by Albert Einstein.

    “He was a friend of my parents” says David, “and when I was a toddler he actually sat with me in my sandbox. He told me stories and asked me questions that stretched my imagination but he made it fun. He was adamant, however, that my parents give me time to still be a kid.”

    David says: “The older you get the more you have observed and experienced, and the more likely it is that you will be able teach back into your memory and identify truly innovative solutions. It is similar to a jigsaw puzzle. Every day you pick up new pieces. The older you get, the more pieces you have seen and it increases the likelihood that you will assemble them in ways no-one else has thought of. This is completely contrary to the popular belief that advancing age is accompanied by decreasing ability to innovate.”

    David’s first breakthrough came when he launched and marketed Raptor Systems, the first commercially successful Internet firewall. The sale of Raptor provided David with the funds to permit him to pursue his life’s calling — to teach that we are born with the innate ability to be innovative. Modeling his teaching on the Wizard of Oz, he is able to quickly enable children to overcome their intrinsic shyness and
    innovate as smoothly as a swan glides through the water.

    David’ latest inspiration, Vaporiety (, was quickly named by the Kaufman Foundation as one of the “World’s 50 Most Innovative Startups.” It started quite simply,” says David. “My wife, a coffee drinker, frequently complained that coffee never tasted good in a travel cup. It didn’t take long, once I heard a clear statement of the problem, to realize that the same lid which keeps the coffee from spilling onto you keeps the aroma from getting to your nose. As we all know, odor is a key ingredient in the enjoyment of food. After
    extensive research, I developed and patented a cup that not only frees the odor but actually enhances it.

    David’s latest invention, believe it or not, is a totally fireproof fabric.

    Please take a look at David’s remarkable bio below and some suggested
    questions to ask him.

    Bio of Dr. David Pensak:

    David Pensak, author of “Innovation for Underdogs,” founded Vaporiety after a distinguished 30-year career at DuPont, where he held myriad senior research positions and served as a corporate technology growth champion, providing guidance for and managing advanced computer-technology explorations and development and advanced materials. He now runs the Pensak Innovation Institute, which is commercializing some of his chemical inventions.

    He was the founder and inventor of technology for three successful information security companies. Raptor Systems provided the first commercial Internet firewalls for business and industry. The company’s rapid growth, commercial success and eventual acquisition by AXENT Technologies (now Symantec) led to technical and financial
    recognition. Subsequently, he founded Authentica (acquired by EMC in February 2006), a recognized leader in the enterprise digital rights management market space, and then Vi Laboratories, a leader in piracy prevention software. He has acted as an adviser for the U.S. Department of Energy, the Clinton Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection, the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment, and the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

    After retiring from DuPont, he joined the faculty at the Wharton
    School of Business. He is the author of Innovation for Underdogs
    (Career Press, 2008) and is currently on the faculties of George
    Washington University School of Law and the University of Delaware Business School. He holds an AB from Princeton in Chemistry and an AM and PhD from Harvard, both in Chemistry.

    Suggested questions for Dr. Pensak:

    Where do innovations “come from?”

    Why are so many people scared of innovation?

    What drives someone to be innovative?

    How can companies nurture innovators?

    How do they stifle innovation?

    Patents cannot – by law – be “obvious” yet you are suggesting that
    opportunities to innovate are all around us, just waiting to be
    recognized. Please explain.

    How should parents encourage their children to be innovative?

    Doesn’t it take a lot of money to make an innovation successful?

    Why is “failing” often a better teacher than “succeeding?”

    How do you make sure you are asking the right questions?

    What problems does civilization need to have solutions for if we are
    not to go extinct in the next 100 years?

    To arrange an interview with Dr .David Pensak please call or write me
    at the address below.

    Thank You
    Richard Berman
    151 Seven Bridges Road
    Chappaqua, New York 10514

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