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This iPhone ‘Theatre Mode’ Update Sounds Like a Threat

Empty movie theater
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It’s hard to pass judgment on iPhone’s new “theatre mode” because, well, it doesn’t exist out in the real world just yet. But according to a new report, that might be changing sooner rather than later, as Apple’s latest update is said to include this mysterious function. What is it, exactly? What does it do? Is this good news or bad news? Is the sanctity of the theatrical experience facing a new, insidious threat? Whatever it is, we’ll probably find out on January 10, when the iOS 10.3 beta rolls out to iPhone users.

The Independent called attention to some intriguing tweets from “regular Apple leaker” Sonny Dickson, who claims that the upcoming iOS 10.3 beta includes a function known as “theatre mode.” Per Dickson, the mode is initiated when users click on a popcorn icon in the iPhone control center. As for functionality (like, what does it do), Dickson offered no further details.

There is plenty of speculation, however. Some have swiftly linked “theatre mode” to one of Apple’s existing patents, which essentially detailed plans to make phones more accessible and easier to use in movie theaters. (This ties into some preexisting speculation about Apple’s plans for a “dark mode,” which features black menus that are easier to read at nighttime — a theory supported by Apple’s new OLED handsets.) As detailed on the patent, which was granted back in 2012, this mysterious mode would automatically disable call sounds and incoming notifications, while the phone’s screen would switch to a much dimmer setting — all of which sounds fairly reasonable, except for the screen setting, which implies (and maybe even encourages?) users to keep using their phones at the movies like monsters.

But the patent did have an interesting detail: The function would be triggered by theater companies / owners, not iPhone users. Instead of changing your screen / sound / notification settings every time you go to a movie theater, your phone would automatically adjust these settings for you. When you leave the theater, voila, the phone automatically switches back to your specific settings — it’s just not up to you. Apple’s head was certainly in the right place (or somewhere in that vicinity) when they filed for the patent, which also suggested that theater owners could establish special screening times and (oh, here it is) charge a premium for customers to watch films with “no cell phone interruptions.”

It’s quite possible that this new “theatre mode” has functions very similar to those detailed in Apple’s 2012 patent, but as Dickson’s tweets suggest, the feature is entirely user-controlled — which means it’s still up to you to decide whether or not to be a jerk when you enter a movie theater. Without seeing how “dim” the screen gets, it’s hard to know just how discreet this new mode will be. Ideally, it would be virtually undetectable / invisible to everyone — including those in adjacent seats — except for the user, but what I just described sounds like sorcery, and I’m pretty sure Steve Jobs wasn’t a warlock. (Pretty sure. Not 100 percent.)

So is Apple’s new “theatre mode” friend or foe? Unless it threatens to destroy your phone Mission: Impossible-style if you take it out during a movie and actually follows through on that threat, this function is useless; making phones slightly less noticeable doesn’t fix the problem. The only acceptable phone setting when you’re in a movie theater is “off.” (Or, if you have the self-control required to get up and leave the auditorium before taking your phone out to check it, then “silent” is also acceptable.)

A Small Issue at Movie Theaters Is Becoming a Major Problem

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