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Patent suggests location-based social networking for iPhone


Imagine you and a friend are on a phone call, and both of you own iPhones. You're trying to meet up somewhere downtown in a city neither of you know very well, so the best answer you can give your friend when he asks, "Where are you now?" is "Uhhh..." followed by several seconds of silence. It's already possible to share your location using the Maps app on the iPhone -- find your current location, tap on the blue marker on the map, tap "Share Location," and then send it to your friend either as an e-mail or MMS. Then your friend receives the e-mail or MMS with your location, opens it in Maps, and has the option of finding directions to your location from his current location.

If that sounds like a lot of unnecessarily complex steps to answer the simple question of "Where are you," you're in luck, because according to a new patent application, Apple agrees with you. By putting "Request location info" and "Release location info" buttons on the call screen in the Phone app, it would be possible to share your location or request someone else's with a single button press. The same process applies -- the iPhone polls its GPS to find out where you are, then transmits that info to your friend's iPhone -- but instead of having to jump through all the hoops yourself, the OS handles it for you in the background. Once your phone receives a request for location info it comes up in a notification, probably very similar to the notifications location-based apps already use when they request permission to use location data. If you agree to release your location data to the caller, it's transmitted in a fully encrypted signal to the caller's iPhone. Your location data would then show up on your friend's iPhone, complete with the option to find directions.

Some other interesting information has come out of this patent application. In describing the type of call this feature could be applied to, Apple says, "Note that the reference to 'voice call' here is not limited to a conventional, sound-only conversation. It may also include video of the two users, synchronized with their audio. The call may be a cellular network telephone call that has been initiated by either user." This shows further evidence that Apple is researching the possibility of including video conferencing capabilities in a future iteration of the iPhone.

Additionally, Apple seems to be exploring greater location-awareness options for its own apps, including weather and a Yellow Pages app. The patent also refers to several apps as "Widgets" -- Calculator, Alarm Clock, and Dictionary all fall under an application module subset referred to as "Widget Modules." There's two possibilities here: either these apps are still being referred to as widgets because their basic interfaces grew out of OS X's Dashboard Widgets (an explanation I've heard a few times before), or Apple is looking toward bringing Dashboard-style functionality to a future version of the iPhone OS, with smaller apps like Calculator and Alarm Clock being implemented as "widgets" rather than standalone apps. This has been offered as one possible explanation for the mysterious absence of several of Apple's apps from the iPad.

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