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Apple Reveals a Powerful Location-Based Service for the iPhone

1 - cover - new iphone service delivers temp location-based apps 
Within the sixteen patent applications that were published by the US Patent & Trademark Office for Apple Inc today, a single gem emerged. It's a very powerful new concept for a location based application service that is one of the most ingenious ideas that have surfaced on this subject in some time. The idea is simple. Deliver a location based service to information savvy iPhone users that wish to receive temporary retail and service-based applications. Imagine standing at the entrance of a restaurant and viewing their menu on your iPhone or entering a public library and being able to access their database. The minute you leave the library or the front of that restaurant, the app disappears so that you don't clog up your iPhone with hundreds of local business apps. I don't know if Apple will tackle this at their upcoming developer conference, but this is a phenomenal opportunity for hungry developers and/or Business Form companies looking for a new avenue for revenue. There are millions of non-geek business owners who are going to want in on this service so as to attract new tech savvy iPhone using clients. Snooze on this opportunity and you'll Lose.


Basic Background


Despite the mobile nature of such devices, and the ability of such devices to know their location and/or access networks (e.g., via public or private Wi-Fi), users are still restricted to applications that are installed on the device, or which the user has decided to install for permanent use.


Apple's patent delivers systems, methods and computer program products to enable content, such as applications, to automatically appear and disappear on a mobile device depending on the location of the device. This permits a user to view and/or interact with applications associated with a particular location. These features enable the mobile device to make applications available when and where they are most useful to users.


An Interesting Location-based App Service Concept


2 - System for delivering location specific apps to iPhone 

Apple's patent FIG. 4A is a block diagram illustrating an example system for delivering location-specific applications to a mobile device. FIG. 4B is a block diagram of illustrating another example system for delivering location-specific applications to a mobile device.


According to some implementations, once location information for the mobile device is identified, content associated with the location of the iPhone could be identified by a server that receives the location information from the iPhone. The server could include a location mapping service as noted in patent FIG. 4b above as #460. The location mapping service could include one or more databases that include one or more location/content tables (#465) that correlate geographical locations to content to identify content, if any, that should be transmitted to the iPhone (or device #440) while the iPhone is at or near a particular location identified by the location information.


For instance, the location/content tables could identify that content, such as text, images, and the like, associated with a national park should be transmitted to mobile devices that are located within the geographical area of the park or within a 1/4 mile from the center of the park.


To effect the identification of content, the location mapping service identifies the current location of a mobile device from location information, and compares the location information to geographical location data in the location/content tables to determine if the location data satisfies, i.e., falls within, the geographical location data. Location information and geographical location data could be identified, for instance, using latitude and longitude data. Once the location information is determined by the location mapping service to satisfy geographical location data, the location mapping service identifies content corresponding to the satisfied geographical location data.


Temporary Location iApp: Restaurant Seating or Ordering


In Apple's patent FIG. 5B below, we see an iPhone (#520) that includes content identified in a database associated with a location of a mobile device. Note that there are two temporary location based apps on the iPhone. One is identified as icon 530 relating to a restaurant reservation timer and icon 535 relating to a restaurant menu.


The idea is that when an iPhone user that has this location based content service activated, simply by approaching a restaurant The user of the device may, for instance, view a seating wait time icon 530 that displays the estimated wait time before being seated. This may be displayed, for instance, where a user of the device provides a PIN, telephone number, or other identification information to a restaurant hostess, or alternatively, identifies that the user is waiting electronically using an iPhone.


The place order icon 535 may be selected by the iPhone user to view and place an order for food electronically. For instance, the content service may include order software associated with the restaurant, which the user could access via the place order icon to submit a food order electronically to the restaurant. Because these icons 530, 535 automatically appear on the user's iPhone when the user is at the restaurant, the user does not need to pre-configure and/or pre-download content to the device prior to arriving at the restaurant.


3 - temporary location specific apps delviered to your iphone, Version B 

Temporary Location iApp: A Public Library Catalog


In another example of a temporary location-specific app, a user entering a library with their iPhone could be presented with a temporary location based app that enables the user to search the library's digital card catalog. Upon exiting the library the application may be automatically removed such that the application is not permanent on the user's iPhone. These features enable the mobile device to make applications available when and where they are most useful to users.


Whether this service will be a MobileMe based service extension or not is unknown at this time. Yet let it be said that imaginative developers could have a field day with such an opportunity. It's also an opportunity for web designers who could extend their services to include a location-based applications service for their clients. It could be as simple as designing a food takeout menu, a movie theater listing with available seating, a mall or school map or perhaps even a dress shop's daily special temporary location-based iApp. The sky is the limit on this concept. In fact, it could take window browsing to a whole new level.


Apple credits Scott Herz as the sole inventor of patent application 20100120450, originally filed in Q4 2008.


Some of the other Patent Applications Published Today


Three-Dimensional Display System: Patent application 20100118118 isn't a new patent. For detailed information regarding this patent, see our original 2008 report titled "Apple Working on 3D Holographic Projection Displays."


Continuation Patents: Patently Apple rarely reports on continuation patents because they've been previously published and/or reported on. On the other hand, the good news about continuation patents is that they at least demonstrate that Apple has an active interest in keeping them alive. With that said, here are today's published continuation patents:


(1) Docking Station for Hand Held Electronic Devices – 20100118485, (2) Image Capture Using Display Device As Light Source – 20100118179, (3) Water Detection Arrangement – 20100117841 – Note - Apple was granted a patent for this in February 2010, (4) Display that Emits Circularly-Polarized Light 20100118235 – This was covered in March 2010 report titled "Apple Patent May Shed Light on Recent Protective Film Ban," and finally, (5) Audio Sampling and Acquisition System – 20100121741.


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.


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Questions of patent-ability aside it's going to be a fascinating market/opportunity.

I think Dr. Chi is right on the money.

HTML5 Apps on the iPhone (AppCache + Storage) and native apps are virtually indistinguishable. This is more of an implementation than a new, novel and patentable idea.

I think it's great that Dr. Ed Chi took the time to weight in on this even though I don't have a clue what he's talking about. A good debate has to have two sides. Thanks Dr. Chi for giving us your 2 cents worth.

Apple's patent seems to really be about a cloud service that takes on the appearance of a temporary iApp on the iPhone based on location/GPS. On the surface it will be marketed as temporary apps but it's really about a cloud service that will control tiny-apps created by businesses and or services like the library scenario.

Everyone doubted that iApps would fly. After the billionth download, when does it become a success in the minds of Apple's critics? Perhaps the real question is, who cares what critics think?

Those at Parc dropped the ball on the first GUI and mouse. Apple had a vision of how to take deep theory and endless in-lab projects that professors of science could boast of but couldn't turn it into anything viable.

While one has to admire Dr. Chi's position, one doesn't have to agree with his bewilderment as to what Apple is doing. Everyone doubted the sanity of the iPod, now the iPad let alone the iPhone. There are many with degrees up the wazoo that remain in labs because they don't have a clue as to how to bring ideas to market.

You stay in the lab and Apple will take care of their patents. Deal?

What struck me about this idea is the blurring definition of an "app" vs. say a "webpage" makes this patent's value a bit suspect.

Take for instance, the concepts we explored in lots of recommender systems such as the Magitti project at PARC, where we recommend information items to users based on their location and context. Here, users might be taken to a web page, which has interactive elements to it, such as being placed on waiting list, or ordering food-to-go. This is the same as an "app" in functionality, but not in name. So what does this patent really add? Seems to me it's an instantiation of how to implement the idea.

However, maybe I'm reading this all wrong. Perhaps there is value in making an app appear on the screen in this somewhat magical design-y way. (People already know how app screens are suppose to work, and this breaks that UI conception of how apps get on your screen.) But I'm not sure this is worthy of a patent. Just my 2cents.

Very interesting indeed. [Here's my take on the subject in general...]

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