The patent uses motion sensors and the iPhone’s microphones to change the vibration of the phone if needed. The patent shows the phone slowing down or stopping the vibration if the microphones sense the iPhone is vibrating louder than the surrounding area. The phone will also slow down of stop the vibration if the phone is moving around too much.
The Apple patent takes into account the two different types of vibration: a rotating vibrator that uses a weight attached to spinning drive shaft, and linear vibrators that use magnetic force to move the phone. The Verizon iPhone 4 and all models of the iPhone 4S used the magnetic linear vibrator. Older iPhones and the new iPhone 5 use the rotating motor instead.
The rotating vibrator is louder than the linear vibrator, as anyone who switched from the iPhone 4S to the iPhone 5 can attest to. With this patent if the vibration is too loud or the phone moves around too much an iPhone with a rotating vibrator will slow down or stop all together. The system will dampen a linear vibrator with electromagnetic force if needed.
Apple’s patent also describes a scenario where the system will show visual signs or emit soft sounds in situations where a vibrator is likely to disturb others. There’s no system in place for that in current iPhones though Apple could include such technology in a future iPhone.
Apple could possibly include the basics of this patent in current iPhones through software, though it’s not clear if it will. The system will help a lot of users who don’t expect their iPhones to vibrate so loudly when placed on a table. The loudness of a phone’s vibration can sometimes defeat the purpose of a silent mode.