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Apple gives us a Peek into a New Social Networking App in the Works

1 - Apple gives us a peek into a new social networking app in the works 
Social networking on sites like LinkedIn and Facebook are a huge success with today's in-crowd. Today's social apps typically use matching algorithms to match members with members who are deemed compatible by with their interests and values. As of today, Apple has tippy-toed into this arena with their introductory social network for music called Ping and will be wholly embracing Twitter in their upcoming iOS 5 operating system this fall. But it doesn't look like Apple is satisfied just yet. A new patent application that surfaced today indicates that Apple is working on a new iOS based social networking app that will use a few new methods for matching people up. They include uniquely sharing data from your iOS device as well as sharing location data on several levels. The app could identify where you currently are, like a club, but also inform others where you've been such as Paris, New York or events like Macworld or Apple's WWDC so as to provide potential new friends with an ice-breaker for conversation. Apple's proposed app is an odd entry and one that appears to only represent a single part within a larger app framework for a future more complete social networking app. For now, it's interesting but half baked.  


The Problem with Today's Social Networking Apps


Social networks are a well known phenomenon, and various electronic systems to support social networking are known. Growing a social network could mean that a person needs to discover like-minded or compatible people who have similar interests or experiences to him or her. Identifying like-minded people, however, often requires a substantial amount of time and effort because identifying new persons with common interests for friendships is difficult. For example, when two strangers meet, it may take a long and awkward conversation to discover their common interests or experiences.


Today, various social networking technologies exist to aid the process of connecting people. A typical modern computer-implemented social networking application requires each user to provide some biographical information, and/or identify his or her interests, and in some instances could suggest to the user other users with compatible interests. For example, some web sites such as LinkedIn.com or Facebook.com require participants to register as members. Each member could fill out a profile or provide other personal data such as professional interests, career information, interests in music, books, movies, and even information about political or religious beliefs. Matching algorithms could then use the profile or data provided to match members with members who are deemed compatible by the algorithms, under the assumption, for example, that matching people's interests and values can lead to successful new friendships or relationships within the social network.


Some mobile device-based applications for identifying common interests require each user to configure the user's mobile device, including entering the user's interest, such as the things the user wishes to buy or sell, the kind of people the user wishes to meet, etc., before a social networking opportunity can be found for the user.


Apple's Twist to Social Networking


Apple's invention relates to methods, program products, and systems for ad hoc networking based on content and location are described.


According to Apple's documentation, a user of a mobile device could identify another user using another mobile device who is close by, if both users have agreed to participate in ad hoc networking based on content and location.


Users could be matched based on the users' common interests and experiences. Common interests and experiences of two or more users located close to each other could be identified from content, including automatically created usage data of the mobile devices. Usage data of a mobile device could be created based on activities performed on the mobile device (e.g., songs downloaded), a trajectory of the mobile device (e.g., places traveled), or other public data available from the mobile device (e.g., pictures shared). Each of the users could be notified that another user having the common interests and experiences is close by. A secure means of initiating communication could be provided to the users to facilitate communication between the users.


Techniques for ad hoc networking based on content and location could be implemented to achieve the following exemplary advantages. Two strangers located closed to each other, both having requested to participate in the ad hoc networking based on content and location, could start a conversation from common interests or experiences identified by the ad hoc networking based on content and location. The identified common interests or experiences could be based on actions a user actually performed, rather than what the user says he or she did or liked.


People often desire to meet other people for a variety of reasons (e.g., job-seeking, friendship, dating, business, casual conversation, or political debate). Ad hoc networking based on content and location could serve these needs by identifying commonalities between people, without being limited by specialized algorithms (e.g., algorithms tailored for friendship, business relationships, or dating).


Some other advantages of ad hoc networking based on content and location include the ability to facilitate spontaneous user action. A user at any venue (e.g., in a conference, at a beach, in a bar, on an airplane, etc.) could discover another person near the user, where the other person shares similar experience as the user, if the other person also participates in the ad hoc networking. Ad hoc networking techniques based on content and location could provide "icebreakers" that could encourage spontaneous conversation. The users are not required to pre-define a set of match criteria or to set up meetings based on predefined constraints.


Exemplary System for Ad Hoc Networking Based on Content & Location


2 - Overview - system for ad hoc networking based on content and location - June 2011, apple patent, patently Apple 

Apple's patent FIG. 1 illustrates an exemplary system 100 for ad hoc networking based on content and location. FIG. 3 illustrates exemplary implementations of ad hoc networking based on content and location where trajectories of mobile devices are used for identifying matches.


Storing Trajectories


Apple's patent FIG. 3 illustrates trajectories 302 and 332 which could be created automatically for location-aware mobile devices. A trajectory of a mobile device could include a list of places the mobile device has visited. The places visited could each be identified by an entity in a database, the entity representing a venue.


In some implementations, a server could maintain a list of venues. Each venue could be associated with a set of geographic coordinates. When a mobile device moves substantially close to the geographic coordinates of a venue, the server could record that the mobile device has visited the venue. The server could detect that the mobile device is substantially close to the geographic coordinates of the venue based on position data received from the mobile device.


In some implementations, a user's dwell time in a particular venue could be used to determine whether the server records that the mobile device has visited the venue. Dwell time could be determined automatically by starting a timer when the user enters a defined geofence boundary around the venue or location (e.g., a circle having a defined radius enclosing the venue or location) and stops the timer when the user exits the geofence boundary. In some implementations, the mobile device records venue or other locations of interest in local cache and uploads the locations to the server later.


For example, based on the venue list and received location information, the server could determine that mobile device has traveled to Paris, Palo Alto, and Big Island of Hawaii. Corresponding records 304, 306, and 308 could be included into the trajectory noted above as patent point 302. Furthermore, multiple layers of venues could be recorded. For example, in addition to "Paris," the server could determine that mobile device has been to "France" and "Europe." In addition, the venue list could include sufficiently detailed information such that the server could identify that mobile device has visited Eiffel Tower, Centre Pompidou, and Louvre in Paris. Corresponding records 310, 312, and 314 could be included in the trajectory.


It's a little difficult to understand why "dwell time" at a particular venue would matter on a social networking app. I just don't get who would be seeking out that kind of data when trying to find a social match.


Protect Privacy


While it's interesting and handy to find social networking contacts through Apple's proposed system based on sharing information that's on your iPhone – it's nice to know that Apple will provide various mechanisms to protect the privacy of each user. For example, usage data of mobile devices 104, 106, and 108 as noted in FIG. 1 above, could be created only upon users' explicit consent, either during a sign-up process of the ad hoc networking or through other activities. The usage data could exclude sensitive personal information (e.g., financial transactions, email content, etc.) or any other categories of information that the user may wish to exclude (e.g. web browsing history, usage of specific applications, exact location data, etc.).


The usage histories could be used for social networking process only, and only after the users have requested services (e.g., by using the "Buddy Finder" feature). Usage data could be transmitted to other mobile devices only after the users invoke the "Find Friend Now" function. Transmission of the usage data could be encrypted. Some or all of these privacy and security measures could be implemented to ensure that information is gathered and transmitted with user consent, and that the gathered information is secured and is used for legitimate purposes.


Apple's Proposed Interfaces for a New Social Networking Application


Apple's proposed social networking application based on content of your device and location information will also include facial recognition technology, according to Apple's documentation.


Apple's patent FIG. 5B shown below illustrates an exemplary user interface for configuring a social networking distance on the mobile device. Control 516 could allow a user to define a radius within which ad hoc networking based on content and location could occur. The radius could be an approximate distance (e.g., 20 yards, etc.) or more, though Apple never really commits to any particular distance beyond 20 yards. That would really narrow the search to within bars, clubs or other social events.


3 - Apple's Propsed Interfaces for a New Social Networking Application - June 2011 - Patently Apple 

Direction Indicator


Apple's proposed app has an interesting little direction indicator (noted as patent point number 552a) that could include a pointer (e.g., an arrow) that points to the direction of the person you're trying to contact with this new social application. The direction indicator could maintain the correct direction using an electronic magnetometer internal to or coupled with mobile device.


Today's published patent application from Apple was originally filed in Q4 2009 by the sole inventor Shuvo Chatterjee. For more information, see patent application 20110142016.  


To get a look at Apple's larger social networking vision, see our Social Archives on this very segment. Oh, by the way, the female in Apple's patent figure 5a is likely winking, but she sure looks scary doesn't she? – ha! And one more thing: Is it just me or is this kind of app a little lame? Do you think that you could make friends using this kind of app? Why would anyone make friends with a stranger based on iPhone content of likes and places where we've been? It's kind of creepy, really. If you think otherwise, then please, enlighten me. Cheers!   


Other Noteworthy Patent Applications Published Today


Another Apple patent application published today called "Shoe Wear-Out Sensor, body-bar sensing System, Unitless Activity Assessment and Associated Methods" was first covered in our granted patent report in March 2011. Evidently Apple is now tweaking a detail or two.


Another Continuation Patent that has popped up today covering a 2008 patent titled "Pushing a Graphical User Interface to a Remote Device with Display Rules Provided by the Remote Device" was covered originally by Patently Apple in November 2009.


In other IP News today: last August we reported on Apple trademarking their NY Store on Fifth Avenue. Today, ifoAppleStore.com reports that work on the plaza where Apple's store resides is undergoing repair which will mean removing Apple's Glass structure. Whether that'll translate into any actual changes to Apple's Glass structure is unknown at this time. Elsewhere, Bloomberg is reporting that Apple has been sued by New York publisher John T. Colby in federal court today for trademark infringement over its use of the term “iBooks.” Apple made several iBook related filings in the US and Canada in 2010 (One, Two and Three).


Apple iBook Icon Trademark 

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. Patent applications shouldn't be digested as rumors or fast-tracked according to rumor time tables. Apple's patent applications represent true research that could lead to future products and should be understood in that light. About Comments: Patently Apple reserves the right to post, dismiss or edit comments.


Here are Some Great Community Sites that are covering our Original Report


Twitter, MacSurfer, MacTalk Australia, Search Engine Land, Abert ate de Madrugada Spain, Rivva Germany, Apple Investor News, Google Reader, UpgradeOSX, TechWatching, Macnews, iPhone World Canada, Business Insider, CBS MarketWatch, Techmeme, SlashGear,  t3n Germany, PhoneArena, NBC Bay Area, T3 UK, TechRadar, Business Chip Online Germany, Next iPhone NewsProduct Reviews, iPhon France, MarketingVOX, Begeek France, and more.





Predicated on having the GPS chip on for longer periods of time (and it not being such a battery drain) - there are lots of LBS [location based services] possibilities. we've seen 3G chip power drain lower (remember the iPhone 3G's issues, and the sometimes need to manually control 3G on/off to conserve battery?)

Timing wise, delivering more LBS possibilities seems more useful post iMessages, post iChat/Facetime merging ina way - there's a lot of hardware and software in the pipe waiting Lion's release at the moment!

A background BT using app could be a valid alternative - as whilst GPS gives some location data, how many will be wanting to meet new people/potential partners where the GPS signal is good enough to locate them? Check in, or rough proximity, or actual known proximity due to being in BT / Bonjour range seems an alternative. We can await to see how well the location option for todo's goes down in iOS5. We'll be waiting for the APIs as usual - but then there's definite reason for that as Bertrand has mentioned in the past at WWDC.

We can knock Apple for their forays into social before - but they have the userbase. the iDevice userbase is huge - and Apple's MO is small incremental changes, raising the bar for all of its competitors. (e.g. see this in action regarding handset design, UI, and upcoming - RIMM is about to feel this regarding BBM vs iMessage (and the carriers too!)).

Jack Purcher

@FNugget - your initial point is 100% incorrect. The first line in the USPTO patent states:

United States Patent Application 20110142016

You can't miss it. Okay, you did. Read it again.

Thanks for your comment.


FYI, 20110142016 is the publication number, not application (12/638,908). Publications are publicly available on the patent office website.

I don't see how this is creepy though, if people already go to bars full of strangers. And college party drinking games. I like the icebreaker idea though. Sounds like a Wii party game.

Eric Schatz

This is just wild, i could see all kinds of off-label applications for this too like hunting fugitives (fugitive is 300 meters away and west of you)...but will it integrate with Ping?

Jeffrey Hellman

This site is now in my list of must read sites. Great job making Apple's patent grants accessible and understandable!

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