Last week Apple introduced us to both a new shopping app and the Virtual Closet. The next in this line of shopping apps is one that works directly with in-mall servers. The new iPhone centric app uses GPS to track your whereabouts in the Mall and to assist you in finding the right stores at the right time for hot sales through what Apple calls a "heat map." The new iPhone app covers a lot of ground here – from being a handy in-mall directory, to allowing you to use your iPhone as an electronic key to access services like a private bathroom, to making an in-mall restaurant or movie reservation, to assisting you with parking, to finding a bell boy and right through to social networking with your friends at the mall. Being that Apple's screenshots display names like Sears, Target and the Gap prominently, it's obvious that Apple has been working with several major chain participants in designing this application in order to modernize our shopping experiences.
As shoppers visit shopping malls or various other types of consumer centers, many interactions between the shoppers and the shopping center can take place. For example, a shopper can interact with a parking lot attendant at the shopping center in order to find an available or most convenient parking space, can interact with a shopping mall map or information center to find stores of interest, can interact with a sales clerk to find an item of interest, can interact with magazines and brochures to try and determine what are popular items and stores, and can interact with restaurants and other services at the shopping center to reserve certain services. All of these interactions can require distinct actions from the shopper from different devices or elements. For example, a shopper can talk with a parking attendant, peruse a physical shopping mall directory, and use a phone to make restaurant reservations by calling a restaurant of choice.
Although this combination of approaches for interacting with a shopping center can be serviceable, it remains cumbersome and requires the shopping center to accommodate all of the possible forms of interaction. From a shopper's perspective, the lack of centralization of interactions with the shopping center provider and with the available shopping-related services can require more effort from the shopper wishing to take advantage of the shopping center, and perhaps even dissuade the shopper from using available services (thus at a cost to the shopping center provider).
Moreover, this approach may not provide a shopper with the most accurate information regarding what items or stores are popular. For example, a shopper may only have a magazine's or an advertisement's claim that a particular item is currently popular, and may not have any real world data on the popularity of that item (e.g., data such as how often the item is purchased).
Apple's patent is about providing access to shopping mall services using a portable electronic device like the iPhone. In particular, the patent is directed to providing a "heat map" to indicate popular areas of or products in a mall.
In some embodiments, the integrated application could interface with one or more service providers (e.g., vendors, shops, restaurants, parking lots, information centers, entertainment venues, or other suitable service providers) in the shopping center to provide access to different services and information made available by a shopping center. As one illustration, the integrated application could receive information from a server of a parking service provider to determine areas of available parking, available parking closest to a desired store, the location of a user's vehicle, or other suitable information related to parking. As another illustration, the integrated application could receive information related to movie times from a server of a movie theater service provider, could receive information related to store hours and available products from a vendor service provider, or receive any other suitable information.
In some embodiments, the integrated application could receive information from service providers that include metadata associated with those service providers. The metadata could define, for example, attributes of the goods and services offered by a service provider (e.g., types of clothing, brands of clothing, color, how many of a particular item are currently in stock, types of food, or other suitable attributes), attributes of the service provider (e.g., type of store, hours of operation, location of the store in the shopping center) or any other suitable characteristic of a service provider. Using the metadata, the electronic device could compare goods and services from different stores or providers, and recommend combinations of goods from different stores or providers.
In some embodiments, the integrated application could provide personalized maps of a shopping center (e.g., maps showing a user's current location in real-time, a map showing preferred service providers, or other personalized map). In some embodiments, special promotions and offers could be received by a user's electronic device through the integrated application. In some embodiments, the integrated application could use the iPhone as a key to access certain goods or services provided by the shopping center service provider (e.g., a key to access to a shopping center's bathrooms, a key to access a specific parking space or elevator, a ticket to purchase a reserved item at a store, or the like).
The integrated application could interface with servers from several service providers to receive current information as to the availability and price of a particular product. For example, in response to a user selection of a particular item from a catalog displayed by the device, the electronic device could determine, from an appropriate source, the nearest store(s) carrying the item and the prices of the item in each of the stores. In addition to checking availability, the integrated application could provide a user with the ability to search for products, to reserve products (e.g., by pre-paying for an item), to locate stores or other service providers in a shopping center, or any combination of the above.
In some embodiments, the integrated application could map routes to a desired product. For example, in response to a user indicating they desire "Product A", the integrated application could locate a store currently possessing Product A, and then display a map showing a route from the user's current location to the located store. As another example, in response to a user indicating they desire several products, the integrated application could locate one or more stores currently possessing these products, and then generate a route through the shopping center that can bring the user to each of the stores. The generated route may, for example, be a shortest route that takes the user to the stores, a route the allows the user to end at a desired location (e.g., the user may desire to end their shopping near a Food Court so they can eat, or the user may desire to end their shopping near an exit to a parking lot), or any other suitable route.
To assist users in purchasing new content at the shopping center, the integrated application could provide product recommendations based on user preferences. For example, the integrated application could compare a database of user preferences to information related to new products to determine whether there are any matches. As another example, the integrated application could include or access a database storing information reflecting the items already owned by the user. The integrated application may then compare new items in the shopping center with the items already owned by the user, and provide recommendations to a user based on these comparisons.
Screenshots Associated with this Shopping Center Application
Apple's patent FIG. 3 shows us diagram 300 of various functions available to a user while finding a parking space. For example, to provide the functions indicted by diagram 300, an integrated application of a shopper's iPhone could connect to a server of a parking service provider. Information associated with the functions of diagram 300 could then be received from this server. In some embodiments, the integrated application could allow the iPhone to function as a "parking ticket." In some embodiments, the integrated application could allow a user to perform secure transactions (e.g., using a credit card) to reserve and/or pay for a parking space.
It should be recognized that the iPhone's integrated app could be used to perform secure transactions for any suitable service and is not restricted to a parking service. For example, in some embodiments, the integrated application could allow a user to perform secure transactions to reserve and/or pay for other shopping center services such as accessing a private bathroom, using a specific type of shopping cart or accessing a shopping attendant or Bell Boy, purchasing movie tickets, reserving a table at a restaurant, purchasing or reserving other products, or any other suitable services some of which is shown above in FIG. 9.
Apple's patent FIG. 4 is a schematic view of functions available to a user while generally browsing for goods and services at a shopping center. The application uses GPS (global positioning system) using triangular techniques in conjunction with Shopping Center maps. With this app your iPhone becomes a shopping center directory at your fingertips.
In some embodiments a shopper could receive special offers from various stores that may be of interest to the user through the integrated application. Promotions that match the user's preferences could then be received through the integrated application in the user's iPhone. Additionally, the shopping center could provide "time-sensitive" sales information to the iPhone user so as to incite them to buy something on sale for say, the next hour. If the iPhone user has a "preference list" on their iPhone app, the service provider could scan that list and be able to target market items known to interest you – be it a new iMac at the Apple Store or a pair of hot red shoes at some hot retailer.
In some embodiments, the iPhone's integrated application may build social networking connections by providing notification of friends' locations in a shopping center. For example, each friend may have on their person an iPhone that includes a positioning system. The positioning system could be any suitable system (e.g., GPS, or a system using triangulation of Wi-Fi or cellular network signals) that could determine the friend's location.
The friend's location may then be transmitted to the user's iPhone. The user's iPhone may then create a personalized map of the shopping center indicating the user's location and the locations of their friends. For example, Apple's patent FIG. 6 shows exemplary user interface 600 that could provide notification of friends' locations. As shown in FIG. 6, a user's current location in a shopping center could be indicated by marker 602, and the locations of friends could be indicated by one or more instance of marker 604.
Moreover, through the integrated application, social networking connections may also be built by allowing a user and friends to share ideas and opinions related to the shopping center. For example, the user could share opinions on products and stores – ask for recommendations on products and stores, post information related to the shopping center to a public "wall," blog, or other on-line information sharing site, or any combination of the above.
Accordingly, through an integrated application, a user could receive advice regarding popular items, receive gift guides, generate and update a wish list and a look book, and use social networking features to request and receive advice from friends or other users in a social network. A user could scan for information and ratings for particular items, check availability of items in one or more sizes, compare fashion items, and build outfits. The iPhone could include one or more algorithms operative to recommend products to generate complete shopping center purchase experiences using items from several service providers of the shopping center as well as items already in the user's possession.
In some embodiments, the iPhone's integrated app could keep a user informed of what products, stores, or both in a shopping center are currently popular. As one illustration, the integrated application could receive information related to sales information of products in the shopping center. For example, by communicating with various servers of service providers in the shopping center, the integrated application could receive information related to what products have been sold and in what quantity. In this manner, the integrated application could determine what products, stores, or both are popular by analyzing the sales information received from the service providers of the shopping center.
In some embodiments, the integrated application could provide a "heat map" to indicate to the user what products and stores are currently popular.
The Heat Map: Where the Action is!
In Apple's patent FIG. 8 we see a process 800 for creating a heat map such as, for example, heat 700 of FIG. 7. At step 802, the iPhone's integrated app could connect to one or more servers of service providers in the shopping center. For example, the integrated application could connect to servers of one or more restaurants, shops, other vendors, parking lots, ice rinks, movie theaters, other entertainment venues, or any other suitable service providers of the shopping center.
In some embodiments, a "heat map" could be provided to indicate the popularity of a service provider, product, or both to a user. For example, the integrated application could receive information related to stores in which a lot of customers are currently purchasing items, or related to the number of a particular product that is being purchased. Based on this information, the integrated application could then determine which service providers, products, or both are currently popular (e.g., where a product or service provider could be considered more popular when more people are buying this product or making purchases at this store, respectively). The integrated application may then generate a heat map to symbolically display the popularity of service providers, products, or both to a user.
Apple credits Christine Cho and Stanley Ng as the inventors of this patent application, originally filed in Q3 2009.
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