Almost everyone has experienced the embarrassment of having their phone ring in a meeting or some other inappropriate place. We have probably all snickered when this has happened to some well-known person, and reached for our phone to make sure we have remembered to put it on vibrate mode.
By the same token, we have all probably missed calls because we left our phone on vibrate, or set to ring at an excessively low volume in noisy environments.
It seems to me that every smartphone should have the ability to tag calendar entries with 'vibrate only', and 'ring loud' which would override the default phone setting. While doing this, mobile OS producers should allow tagging of an event as 'airplane mode'. Value-added extensions to this would include features to automatically detect wireless requests for all phones to be put temporarily on vibrate, when in a theatre or library.
A web search indicates that support for aspects of this can be obtained on the BlackBerry. Certain HTC devices can be set to vibrate during calendar entries marked 'busy'. But I want to indicate I am busy in many contexts when I don't mind being phoned, such as when in transit to an appointment. Being busy in a calendar entry simply means not being available to be booked.
There may be patents impeding making this feature more widespread; this patent application, for example, covers vibrate mode for theatres. There may be others pending.
However IETF RFC 2445, the iCalendar standard, is the likely culprit. This 1998 standard predates smartphones and doesn't include automatic ringer modes such as what I am describing. Google calendar and Apple iOS iCal base their calendar formats on RFC 2445 so to deviate too far from it would render calendaring applications interoperable. There are already plenty of bugs that I think derive from attempting to adhere to the standard, such as this.
RFC 2445 does contain a provision for adding non-standard fields starting with 'X' to 'push the envelope'. However unless Microsoft, Google, RIM and Apple all agree to the same extensions, calendars will not sync properly, to the annoyance of customers.
What is really needed therefore is an update of RFC2445. I hope this will come about eventually and that it isn't inhibited by patents (I will have more to say about my concerns regarding software patents in future posts).
In the meantime, I hope at least the 'busy means vibrate' half-solution mentioned above will be implemented more widely.