The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Thursday published an Apple patent application that outlines a method in which a caller could check the status of another iPhone user's handset before placing a call to determine whether it's a good time for them to chat

The feature sounds similar to a notification system you'd find on an instant messaging client to show if a user is "available" or "away." In the patent filing titled "Methods to determine availability of user based on mobile phone status," Apple points out that those on the receiving end of a call have the ability to screen incoming calls using caller ID.

The problem, however, is that it's an inefficient method for the caller as well as the person on the other end that receives a call at an inopportune time. Apple's proposed method would automatically share the state of a device to would-be callers using indicators like current operating mode (is the ringer on or is it set to vibrate), current location, cell signal strength, battery life and other metrics.

All of these could be reported based on user preference to help determine if it's a good time to accept a call or not. That information would then be displayed to the caller to help them decide if they want to move forward with the call or try a less invasive method of communication like a text message.

It's a novel approach to screen calls but whether or not Apple will actually implement it, especially in the wake of recent privacy and tracking concerns, remains to be seen.