A newly discovered Apple patent reveals that future iPhones could use infrared technology to provide sophisticated cameras that communicate with the objects around them. The system works by picking up infrared signals that contain encoded data and decoding them to display related information to the user or modify the operation of their device.

The patent suggests the feature could be used to disable an iPhone’s camera in a place where image capturing is illegal, or it could turn iOS devices into tour guides that enable a user to interact with objects around them…

Patently Apple, who first discovered the patent made public by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office today, describes why this technology would be good for our iPhones:

A transmitter could be located adjacent to a museum exhibit and its infrared signal could include encoded data that represents information about the exhibit. In some embodiments, the infrared signal could include encoded data that represents a command. For example, the transmitter could be located in an area where photography is prohibited and the infrared signal could include encoded data that represents a command to disable recording functions.

As an alternative to disabling recording functions altogether, Patently Apple notes that infrared signals could instead add a watermark to any images or video you record.

Other functions include the opportunity for the user to interact with objects to discover more information. So when you’re walking around a museum or an art gallery, you can point your device at a certain piece and obtain additional information along with accompanying audio, video or images.

The patent suggests this feature could be user configured so that you can turn it on or off, define its sensitivity for picking up nearby signals and alert you when a signal is detected.

This sounds to me like a feature similar to that users can enjoy through augmented reality applications that allow you to point your device at landmarks or buildings and discover information. However, this seems more sophisticated in that the infrared signals read by your device can manipulate it into performing certain tasks or disabling certain features.

Is infrared technology something you’d like to see in a future iPhone, or is it just unnecessary?