Apple has been granted a patent for a sort of intelligent visual caller ID. Like usual, the patent application carries the mundane title of “Image selection for an incoming call”.

In reality, the technique Apple proposes could alert you to the caller’s identity and give you some contextual clues where they are calling from, even their time of day. We can already get an image of a caller, based on the incoming phone number.

But the patent could display an image based on additional filters. For instance, suppose you receive a mid-morning call on the West Coast from someone in Japan. The technology would determine the caller’s location and timezone, and show a photo of the person in the middle of the night. Does this mean I can’t call in sick when I’m actually at the beach?

According to the U.S. Patent No. 8,331,916, first spotted by AppleInsider, one could even determine what picture appears when one’s significant other rings. And by using a star-ratings system, you might downgrade the matching image to one with horns and a mustache.

The method Apple’s researching includes “locating plurality images of the identified caller, and randomly displaying on the mobile telecommunications device’s display screen one or more images from among the located plurality images of the identified caller”.

An image for inbound caller ID could come from a number of sources, including locally stored images or a cloud-based gallery. The system might also tap phone numbers, iMessage email addresses, information about location, date and time and other data points in order to put up the right caller ID image.

The potential is huge, as noted by TechCrunch:

In theory, such a system would know to show you a picture of a friend at home in San Francisco if it detects that a call is coming from there. It could also show a snapshot of you and a significant other on vacation in New York City, if the phone detected that you were travelling there while receiving a phone call from home.

It gets even better than that:

The system can also display photos from approximately the same time of day as that of the origin call, which would actually be a handy visual shortcut to realize that someone on the other side of the world might be calling you very early in the morning or very early at night, regardless of what time it is locally.

Of course, the patent application filed in 2010 does not mean it will wind up in the next iOS update. But the concept seems to be a perfect fit for the iPhone.

If it does make it into one of the future firmware updates, be prepared for a deluge of caller ID-blocking apps.

I already have a photo of myself, busily writing the next time I want to grab some sun.