Apple Reveals a Powerful Location-Based Service for the iPhone
Apple Files Trademark for Giant "Remote" Icon

A New Social Workflow Patent from Apple Highlights Facebook

1 - A New Social Workflow Patent from Apple Highlights Facebook - cover graphic 
Last Wednesday the Business Insider reported that a mobile industry insider confirmed to them that Apple was building Facebook features into iPhone OS 4. Perhaps "Apple's new hooks into Facebook," reported Frommer "will make this sync process part of the phone's operating system and not just a feature of the Facebook app." Coincidentally, a recently published Apple patent sheds light on this very subject under the scope of a fuller social networking application concerning various workflows including an "Add Contact" workflow and a "Social Networking" workflow which specifically highlights an exemplary Facebook example. This report covers Apple's "Workflow" patent that is indeed presented as a possible future iPhone OS upgrade consideration.


Patent Background


Consumers frequently store many types of data on electronic devices, such as cellular telephones, portable media players, laptop computers, and personal data assistants. For example, consumers may store contact information, calendar appointments, to-do lists, pictures, and links to web pages on electronic devices. Due to the increasing portability of electronic devices, consumers frequently share data stored on electronic devices with other people. For example, consumers may exchange shopping lists or contact information stored on electronic devices over the Internet, through flash-drives, or over serial connections.


Typically, several actions are required to transfer data to and between electronic devices. For example, to create a new contact file, a consumer may perform the following steps: open a mail application, enter the contact person's phone number and email address, select a ring tone, open a camera application, take a picture of the person, and store the picture with the contact file. The consumer may frequently repeat the same series of steps each time a new contact is added. The consumer also may need to instruct the other person on how to generate or transmit the requested data. Further, electronic devices may operate using different operating systems and software applications. Additional steps may be required to convert information on one device into a format compatible with another device. The series of repeated steps may be complicated and time consuming.


Apple's Goal is to Simplify Social Networking Exchanges


Apple's patent is directed to techniques for performing a workflow between two or more electronic devices: Devices that Apple's patent illustratively limits to the iPhone and iPod touch. The patent states that one of the devices will function as the "Initiator Device" which controls the workflow and sends instructions for executing the workflow to the second device which is considered the "Target Device."


The instructions generated by the initiator may allow both devices to accomplish a shared goal. For example, the initiator device may have a workflow for adding a new contact that includes receiving an electronic business card and adding the contact as a friend on a social networking site such as Facebook. However, the target device may not have this workflow installed. The initiator may generate a workflow script for performing these actions and may send the workflow script to the target device so that both devices, target and initiator, may perform these actions.


The Basic Workflow


The workflow includes instructions for performing each action in the action sequence in a specific order, and the instructions may include a set of instructions for the initiator electronic device and a set of instructions for the target electronic device. The actions within a workflow may represent any of the actions that an iPhone or iPod touch is capable of performing, such as storing contact information, taking a picture, transmitting and receiving notes, texts, emails, and data files, obtaining and sending contact information by exchanging electronic business cards, synchronizing calendars and receiving a bookmark for the contact person's personal webpage.


2 - New iPhone icon - A New Social Workflow Patent from Apple Highlights Facebook 

As noted above, the "Workflows" component shown as number 74 may define a series of actions that may be performed by the "initiating iPhone" and another electronic device acting as the targeted device.


For example, spouses may want to synchronize family calendars on a daily or weekly basis. One spouse's cell phone may function as the initiator device 10 and the other spouse's cell phone may function as the target device. Upon detecting a near field communication link with the target device, the initiator device 10 may initiate a workflow for synchronizing the family calendars stored on each device. The "Preferences" component - noted above as component 72, may be used to specify device identifiers for cell phones, media players, computers, and other electronic device, that when detected by near field communication may initiate a workflow. The preferences may also be used to specify which workflow is initiated upon detecting a specific device.


In Apple's patent FIG.1 shown below we see a new workflow exchange icon noted as number 32 on an iPhone. When activated, it opens the workflow application.


3 - iPhone Architecture - A New Social Workflow Patent from Apple Highlights Facebook 

For interest sake, it should be noted that within this particular patent, the iPhone's general description includes a factoid that states that "the I/O port 34 may be a proprietary port from Apple Inc." Hmm, if it's not USB, then it could be the first sign or hint of Apple contemplating the implementation of an advanced I/O, such as Light Peak, for future iPhone-OS based devices (iPhone/iPod touch/iPad). Time will tell.


NFC - Workflow Exchange


In Apple's patent FIG. 4 below we're seeing a workflow exchange that may be performed with the initiator device, represented as 10A, and a target electronic device 10B. The workflow may be performed in a wide variety of environments, such as a within a store, within a school, within or home, or within any environment that the initiator device may be located within or transported to.


4 - NFC communications - A New Social Workflow Patent from Apple Highlights Facebook 

As we could see in FIG. 4, user 82 is operating the initiator device 10A within a retail store and has encountered another person 84 operating the target device 10B. The users bring their respective electronic devices in close proximity to each other to establish a communication link 88 for performing a workflow exchange. For those wishing to go deeper into the workflow of patent figure 5 could review patent points #70 to #78 of this patent which is identified at the end of this report.


Workflow Exchange Examples


Home Environment: A workflow may be used in a home environment to transfer a shopping list between a housekeeper and employer. For example, the employer may generate a shopping list and dinner menu on her electronic device 10A and execute a workflow to send this information to the housekeeper's target electronic device 10B. The workflow also may include a script that instructs the target device to send notification that the list was received and to transmit a note stored on the target device to the employer's initiator device. For example, the target device may transmit a note requesting days off to the initiator device. Hmm, all I need now is a housekeeper – Ha!


School Example: A workflow may be used in the school environment to turn in homework and receive the next homework assignment. For example, a professor may have an initiator device such as a desktop computer that performs a workflow to obtain completed homework assignments from students' electronic devices such as a MacBook or portable media player (iPod touch, iPad, iPhone). The workflow also may transmit the next homework assignment to the students' electronic devices. For "Turn in Homework" see FIG. 7 below


Workflow Menu Screenshot


Apple's patent FIGS. 7 to 11 illustrate screens that may be included within the workflow application. Screen 128 of FIG. 7 will serve as the main menu for performing and customizing the workflows.


5 - iPhone Workflow Main Menu - A New Social Workflow Patent from Apple Highlights Facebook 

Each workflow may represent a series of actions that may be performed in response to selection of the workflow. For example, the "Add Contact" workflow may be used to exchange contact information with another person. The actions may include exchanging electronic business card information and taking and storing a picture of the newly acquired contact. The "Social Network" workflow may include a series of actions for adding someone as a friend on a social networking site, such as Facebook, MySpace, or LinkedIn. The actions may include navigating to the social networking site, entering the user's password, entering the contact information for the desired friend, and confirming a friend request. The actions also may include sending code to the target electronic device to instruct the target device to access the same social networking site and request that the user be added as a friend.


Apple's patent FIG. 8 shown below illustrates a series of screens for initiating a workflow while patent Apple's pa FIG. 10 illustrates a series of screens for performing an exemplary workflow for adding a contact.


6 - Initiating a Workflow - A New Social Workflow Patent from Apple Highlights Facebook 

7 - Adding a Contact - A New Social Workflow Patent from Apple Highlights Facebook 
Exemplary Example: Facebook


Apple's patent FIG. 11 shown below specifically illustrates performing the action of adding a contact as a Facebook friend. The initiator device 10A may begin the action by connecting to Facebook and sending a friend request for adding the contact as a friend. In certain embodiments, the initiator device may use information from the vCard to generate and transmit the friend request. For example, the initiator device may extract the name of the contact person from the vCard.


8 - Facebook Screenshots - A New Social Workflow Patent from Apple Highlights Facebook 

The initiator device may then transmit a workflow script (see #240 of FIG. 11) to the target device 10B. The workflow script may include code that instructs the target device to navigate to the Facebook site and confirm the friend request generated by the initiator device.


As noted above, the workflow script may be generated based on the target properties (see #98 in patent FIG. 5 above) received by the initiator device. For example, the target properties may specify whether the target device is capable of connecting to the Internet. If the target device has an Internet connection, the Facebook script may include instructions for directing the target device to the Facebook site through the Internet. However, if the target device is unable to connect to the Internet, the Facebook script may include XML messages that include instructions for displaying a screen that simulates the Facebook website. In these embodiments, the login information may be transmitted back to the initiator device for subsequent transmission to the Facebook website.


Using the Facebook Script


Using the Facebook script, the target device 10B may generate and display a screen 242. The screen may generated based on XML messages received with the workflow script or the screen may be displayed when the device executes the workflow script and navigates to the Facebook website through the Internet. The screen includes a display area 244 that displays the Facebook website or a simulation thereof. Display areas 246 and 248 may be used to receive the login information for the contact person. The screen 242 prompts the contact person to enter the login information and after entry, the contact person may select the graphical element 250 to login to the Facebook website. In other embodiments, the Facebook script may instruct the target device to retrieve login information stored on the target device. In these embodiments, the target device may log the contact person into the Facebook website and the screen 242 may be omitted.


Upon login, the Facebook script may direct the device to display the pending friend request on a screen 256. A display area 258 may be used to display the request as shown on the Facebook website. The display area includes graphical elements 260 and 262 for confirming or ignoring the friend request. Specifically, the contact person may select either the graphical element 260 or the graphical element 262 to confirm or ignore the friend request, respectively. Another graphical element 264 may be used to view profile information for the friend.


The target device may receive the user selection and transmit data 266 corresponding to the selection to the initiator device 10A. For example, the Facebook script may include instructions directing the target device to transmit the confirmation or rejection to the initiator device as the confirmation data. The initiator device may then receive the confirmation data and display the screen 232 indicating that the friend has been successfully added and that the workflow is complete. Although the specific screens displayed on the devices 10A and 10B may vary, the interaction between the initiator device and the target device may occur in a similar manner for each action within a workflow.


Apple credits Michael Rosenblatt, Gloria Lin, Sean Mayo and Taido Nakajima as the inventors of patent application 20100082821, originally filed in Q3 2008.


Alternative Cover Graphic


9 - Graphic Cover Alternative - A New Social Workflow Patent from Apple Highlights Facebook


Patently Apple Referrers: Here's an alternative cover graphic for you to use in your reports.


Notice: Patently Apple presents only a brief summary of patents with associated graphic(s) for journalistic news purposes as each such patent application is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trade Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any patent application should be read in its entirety for further details. For additional information on any patent reviewed here today, simply feed the individual patent number(s) noted in this report into this search engine. About Comments: Patently Apple reserves the right to post, dismiss or edit comments.


Our Report is also Being Covered by: 

MacSurfer9 to 5 Mac, Techmeme, Mashable, MacStories, MacPlus France, iPhoneHellas Greece, MacKozer Poland, Dobreprogramy Poland, TiPb, FSMBelgium-iPhoneMacmagzine Brazil, iPhoneclub Netherlands, cnBeta China, Geek, Inside Facebook, deStandard Austria, Russia, O'Grady's PowerPage, IntoMobile, Melmorsicata Italy, iPhoneguide Denmark, Business WebNews Italy, Apfeltalk Germany, Columbus Technology Examiner, MacLife Greece, TUAW and others. 



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I can't imagine this involves integrating Facebook directly, but a new Social Networks API and Facebook happens to be one example of the exposed Service that makes your contacts/profile/friends updates/ current on your iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch. This makes sense as integrating a Social Network backend distributed system to manage your ability to broadcast and scrape information from your various social network accounts, into a consistent, well-managed UI that doesn't require you to install,,, etc., unless they have more options not offered with this new solution.

This also hinges on negotiations between Apple and the various social networks to see just how much gets cross-exposure.

Facebook being the most visible social network would be the most likely candidate to have this new API demoed on.

Craig's List has had several fatalities [tragedies] happen and no I don't believe Facebook is on the skids.

With > 200 million profiles [we aren't talking about MySpace] you aren't going to see it falling apart. We might see some management changes that include a revamp of how the corporation deals with your published information and more, but we won't see this company crashing and burning due to the recent changes in privacy for advertising.

[Mark is a former NeXT/Apple engineer]

After the murder of the girl in Australia of whom she met and was lured to the forest to her ends, I think this will be a bad move on Apple's part to integrate Facebook. Additionally due to the abuse of personal data and impeding users 50 layers and options to allow them to maintain privacy. Facebook is on the skids...

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