I read a post last month about phone etiquette in social events that encouraged people to switch to airplane mode so that calls would be sent straight to voicemail while you could keep using the social features of the phone for the conversation. While this strategy makes sense for showing pictures from my local photo library or taking notes, there is little else my phone can do without a data connection. Often times I use my phone to look up a fact to settle a debate between friends or grab a file from Dropbox.
So how can we still encourage good phone etiquette without using airplane mode?
I was out for dinner last night, and my friend’s phone was on the table. Half way through the night, it started ringing, and his first instinct was to flip it over to make it stop. Obviously, it kept ringing so he had to flip it back, forward the call, and then put the phone back on the table face down.
Why couldn’t the phone just forward the call automatically as soon he flipped it over? That’s a fairly universal gesture to signify that you wish to ignore your phone. This simple interaction design would make it far more acceptable to leave your phone on the table during a meeting or social gathering, and quickly ignore calls that don’t need your attention.
I’d love to see iOS 5 implement this functionality, since all of the hardware needed (accelerometer and proximity sensor) is already built-in to all of their devices.
Update on 7/8/12: I recently learned that certain older Android phones already had this feature. I wonder why it never caught on.