Apple Wins MacBook Ambient Light Sensor & Dashboard Patents
Apple Wins Graphics Tablet, Audio Command Patents and More

Apple working on a Hot New NFC-iPhone App with Hidden Surprises

1 cover re Product + app from Apple Inc, July 2010 
In May 2010 we were shown Apple's iPhone roadmap in respect to their forthcoming e-Wallet and Shopping companion Apps. Applications that will require Apple to present the market with new NFC (Near Field Communications) enabled iPhones sometime in 2011 (if we're lucky). In todays patent report we'll explore a new Apple patent that reveals that NFC is going even deeper into the next generation iPhone. Today, Apple introduces "Products +" a generic name for a future "benefit management application." The idea behind the patent is that Apple will work with participating vendors – be they a trendy coffee vendor or electronics or book retailer – so that their packaging will sport an NFC tag. This tag will be able to be read by a user's NFC enabled iPhone which could in return surprise the user with hidden benefits ranging from free merchandise to free music and a lot of options in-between. The benefits angle to an NFC enabled iPhone could tip the scale in a any given sale and I think that this has the potential of being an explosively hot feature to kick off the NFC revolution on the iPhone. Today's report presents you with a ton of benefit-related examples.


A New Benefit Management Application

Apple's patent FIG. 1 illustrated below provides us with an overview of an electronic device 10 which may be configured for obtaining, storing, or using benefits associated with a product or service. Although the main device presented throughout Apple's patent is that of an iPhone, the fact is that Apple states that the patent equally applies to other Apple hardware such as the iPod touch, iMac, MacBook and Apple TV.

A device for managing benefits associated with a product or service may include a processor configured to run a product benefit management application, a memory device operably coupled to the processor, an electronic display operably coupled to the processor, and a near field communication input/output interface. The near field communication input/output interface may be configured to receive data associated with at least one benefit associated with the product or service from a radio frequency identification tag associated with the product or service. The electronic product benefit management application may be configured to enable a user of the electronic device to use at least one benefit.


As we could clearly see below in Apple's Patent FIG. 2, Apple's new benefit management application is illustrated on an iPhone via the icon 44. Here, the product benefit management application is designated as "Products +" to indicate to a user that selection of this application will allow the user to store and use benefits associated with products or services and more.

The NFC interface 34 noted above may enable the iPhone shown below to engage in near field communication (NFC) with RFID tags or other NFC enabled electronic devices. For example, the NFC interface may provide a manner of receiving electronic data from an RFID tag, as described further below.

The iPhone's camera may be used to obtain a digital image of a matrix barcode tag. The iPhone may thereafter employ optical character recognition (OCR) software, barcode-reading software, or matrix-code-reading software to extract information from an image as discussed later in the report.

3 - PRODUCTS + - APPLE'S new product benefit management application fig 2 

Apple spends a lot of time in this patent rehashing various NFC basics and benefits that have been extensively covered by our previous reports on this topic. To review these basics and benefits simply check out our Tech: NFC section.

Beyond the basic benefits and specialty uses for Apple's use of NFC on the iPhone, this patent presents us with a number of new examples of how NFC will be used on our future iPhones. While the focus of this patent is on the new product benefit management application, Apple also cleverly blends in their iAd services as you'll see presented below. Today's report focuses on some the newer twists that Apple is considering for a future NFC enabled iPhone.

The benefit system for obtaining, storing, accessing, and using benefits associated with a product or service with an iPhone will include discount coupons, digital content and so forth.

A Peek at Apple's Benefit Examples

In a Coffee Shop: Apple's patent FIG. 63 illustrated below shows us both an RFID (118) and matrix barcode tag (124) that could be located on the exterior of a paper cup of coffee from a coffee vendor such as Starbucks or Tim Horton's. In patent FIG. 64 we see a benefit diagram 1170 illustrating various benefits that may be associated with food product packaging 1172. Moreover, it should be understood that the benefits described in the benefit diagram are intended to be exemplary and not exclusive. Meaning that it could apply to a can of Pepsi and or other retail based products.

4 - coffee vendor - benefits on NFC label located on cup 

Benefits that may be associated with the food product packaging may include, for example, offers of free or discounted music, a discount on other food items available from the vendor, obtaining a free video game, access to related offers via Apple's iAds and/or even obtaining nutritional information about the vendor's product.

In a Restaurant or Store: In Apple's patent FIGS. 60 and 61 they generally describe benefits that may be associated with a restaurant menu or an exterior wall or door of a store. For example, FIG. 60 illustrates the bottom of a restaurant menu that displays RFID and Matrix barcode tags configured to provide associated benefits.

5 - Restaurant Menu Benefits via NFC 

In Apple's patent FIG. 61 we see the benefit diagram which illustrates various benefits that may be associated with a restaurant menu or store exterior. Benefits that may be associated with the restaurant menu or store exterior may include, among other things, various advertising content to encourage potential entrant to choose to enter the restaurant or store. Certain advertising content may include, for example, digital video advertisements or dinner specials. The dinner specials may represent certain special prices available to users of the iPhone. Nutrition information may be viewable as a benefit on the iPhone as well as an event calendar. Another benefit that may be associated with the restaurant menu or store exterior may be offers of discounted or prepaid food or merchandise in the form of electronic coupons.

Grocery Store Packaging: Apple's patent FIGS. 58 and 59 generally describe benefits that may be associated with products found in a grocery store. Patent FIG. 58 shown below illustrates a box of brownie mix with RFID and matrix barcode tags. The benefits associated with the tag include recipes, an instructional video, a list of ingredients needed, and/or placement of related items into an electronic shopping list.


When a user taps their iPhone on the RFID tag on the box of brownie mix various recipes 1064 may be listed on the handheld device 40. A user seeking step by step instructions for making the brownies could obtain that from the RFID tag information downloaded to your iPhone.

Electronic Store Packaging: Apple's patent FIGS. 55-57 generally describe benefits that may be associated with sales of music, movies, or software, whose cases may include the RFID tag 118 or the matrix barcode tag 124 as shown in FIG. 55. The tags may be displayed prominently on the front of the DVD case to encourage iPhone users to scan the electronic tags prior to purchase. Benefits associated with the DVD case may include, among other things, advertisements directed to marketing the DVD within to potential buyers, being able to watch a special movie trailer or receive a music track sample.

It should be noted that in FIG. 57 we see that the packaging could include software or video game packaging. Among various benefits that may be associated with the software or video game packaging may be a software or game demo or a preview video. A potential buyer of software in the software or video game packaging may, for example, tap an RFID tag 118 located on the software or video game packaging 1032 to the potential buyer's handheld device 40 obtain the benefits associated therewith. The potential buyer may thereafter test the software with the software or game on their iPhone or may watch the preview video to ascertain whether to purchase the software.


Similarly, the software or video game packaging 1032 may include as a benefit a "behind the scenes" video, game hints or software troubleshooting, or an instructional video. The "behind the scenes" video may particularly be of note when paired with a video game, as a user of the video game may be especially interested in learning how the game was developed. The game hints or software troubleshooting may assist game players or users having trouble with the software from the software or video game packaging. In addition to or in lieu of the game hints or software troubleshooting, the instructional video may assist users new to the software in the software or video game packaging.

On Book Covers: As illustrated by FIG. 52, certain pages of a textbook may include RFID tag 118 or the matrix barcode 124. In patent FIG. 53, a benefit diagram illustrates various benefits that may be associated with the textbook which may include, for example, supplementary problems and answers to book problems. By way of example, a student may turn to a given page in the textbook with a series of math problems or chapter questions that may additionally include the RFID tag 118 or the matrix barcode tag 124. After answering the printed questions, the student may scan the RFID tag 118 or the matrix barcode tag 124 using their iPhone and display supplementary problems or answers.

If a student is struggling with a particular concept, a download of instructional audio or video may provide assistance. Similarly, another benefit that may be associated with the textbook may be a link to purchase additional materials, such as textbook supplements or tutoring courses. Additionally, further recommended reading may be offered for those interested in learning more about a particular concept discussed in the textbook.

8 - BOOKS 

Turning to patent FIG. 54, a benefit diagram illustrates various benefits that may be associated with a novel or non-fiction book other than the textbook. It should be appreciated that the benefits associated with the novel or non-fiction book may include content that may be of particular interest to the reader of the novel or non-fiction book. For example, author interviews conducted by print sources or on video may available for download on to an iPhone. Similarly, a link to purchase related titles, such as books by the same author or books of the same genre, may represent an associated benefit. If the novel or non-fiction book is made into a movie or shown on television, a movie trailer for a movie associated with the book may be included. Various press reviews discussing the book may be included as a benefit associated with the product to assist potential buyer.

Some of the same applies to magazines as noted in the Patent Figure example below.


On a Product Manual: Despite the person's best efforts, the user may have difficulty installing a particular product. Rather than pore through the product manual or search fruitlessly for information on the Internet for help with the installation, the person may simply tap their iPhone to the tag on the product manual and thereafter display a helpful setup video, a troubleshooting information wizard, links to a website for further information on the product.


Among the benefits that may be associated with the product or product manual may be troubleshooting assistance. The troubleshooting assistance may represent any digital download to assist a user that may need assistance with the product or product manual. For further assistance, contact information may enable the user to contact the manufacturer of the product or the provider of the service directly via email or phone.

Apple credits Michael Rosenblatt and Gloria Lin as the inventors of patent application 20100174599, originally filed in Q1 2009.

Other Noteworthy Patent Applications Published Today

11 - Apple's Faces Feature found in Aperture and iPhoto 

Three patents relating to Apple's "Faces" feature and one patent relating to Apple's "Places" feature that could both be found in Aperture and iPhoto were published today as follows: Patent 20100172551 re: Organizing Images by Correlating Faces; Patent 20100172579 re: Distinguishing Between Faces and Non-Faces; Patent 20100172550 re: Organizing Images by Correlating Faces; Patent 20100171763 re: Organizing Digital Images Based on Locations of Capture.

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.

Related Material

PDF - Bringing NFC to Market - The graphics in this presentation are sloppy and in some ways outdated. Yet on Page 5 of this document from the NFC Forum, we clealy see an iPod being illustrated. I think that the outdated iPod photo is simply conveying the message that NFC is coming to the iPod (and beyond). The 86 page presentation is dated March 2010. 


On June 17, 2010, Broadcom acquires Innovision Research and Technology who is a leader in NFC technology. The EETimes reports that a Broadcom Wi-Fi/Bluetooth chip is being utilized in the iPad which could favor Broadcom for an NFC solution in the future.

Extra: Check out Apple's Other NFC Related Patents: Tech: NFC

Update: August 2010: Apple Hires NFC Expert.


Community Sites Covering Our Report 

MacSurfer, Apple Investor News, 9 to 5 Mac, MacDailyNews, MacPlus France, iPhoneItalia Italy,iPhone Blips, Mac|Life, Near Field Communications World and more.




Thanks for your contribution Bill.

I noted in "Related Material" above that an NFC Forum presentation is showing an iPod - which I believe is simply to convey that which is to come. So I think that Apple is working behind the scenes directly with one of the NFC standardization bodies.

With that said, Bluetooth Core Spec 4 which has just been released references the inclusion of NFC in respect to the "Out of Band" (OOB) association model. How this will all play out in the future is unknown at this time.

You could get the spec at the bottom of the following page:

Bluetooth is a form of near field communication. I'm not sure the spec would preclude pairing but a lot could be done with just the device IDs

The comments to this entry are closed.