Mobile phones let the user define a collection of behavior profiles adapting sound, lighting and interface to suit different contexts. But my experience shows that continuously switching to new profiles when changing activities is quite clumsy. As a result I have reverted to using just two basic profiles for which my Treo 650 provides a physical switch : “silent” and “loud”. But what I really wish is a device that adapts the telephone ring volume to the level of ambient noise.

As usual when I find myself believing I just created a new concept it only takes a short search to find that I am far from the first to have thought about it. US Patent 6993349 from 2001 describes a “smart ringer” that does exactly what I want :

“A telephone monitors ambient noise, and alters the characteristics of the audible ring to distinguish the sound of the ringing telephone from the ambient noise. Such characteristics include the decibel level, the sound frequency, and the rhythmic pattern or the ringing sound”.

Such concept is also valid for the output of the telephone conversation itself or for other context-dependant settings of the man-machine interface. There too I’m quite late on the ball – for example the “Proceedings for the stakeholders forum on communications enhancement” from 2001 put it quite well :

“The levels of ambient light and noise provide simple but important contextual information. Ambient noise level sensed via microphone can be used to adjust output volume (louder room/car/outdoor setting). Low-tech noise level detection systems have been incorporated into cars (i.e. when the car speeds up the radio volume increases gradually with the speed, takes into account engine and road noise). Ambient lighting levels sensed via a photocell can be used to adjust display brightness and contrast”.

I did now know that cars did that… Maybe it is because I only use a car thrice a month and own a 1992’s Citroen ZX Reflex… Now the real question is : why don’t my phones do that ?