According to Patently Apple, a new patent application from Apple suggests the company is interested in baking augmented reality functions into the iPhone's built-in Maps and Compass apps. In one implementation suggested by the patent, users could take a picture of their surroundings and perform a navigational search based on the image, including turn-by-turn directions.
Apple's augmented reality function would overlay information on the iPhone screen's image, giving users data on objects they're currently viewing such as streets, buildings, and so forth. Building from there, the patent essentially describes a GPS navigator that feeds off input from the camera and overlays information in real-time.
Many third party apps have come out utilizing augmented reality functions in one form or another, but what the patent describes sounds like some pretty futuristic stuff. Standalone GPS devices and even the Maps app on the iPhone do a decent job of giving directions, but there's still an abstraction layer between the user and the real environment with these interfaces. This new augmented reality navigator would go a long way toward paring away the more abstract portions of navigation.
The standard patent caveat applies: since this is only a patent application, there's no guarantee this will ever actually debut on one of Apple's devices. However, given the functions described and the already powerful capabilities of the iPhone's hardware and OS, I don't see any reason why this function wouldn't eventually find its way to market. Maybe it's something to look forward to in iOS 6 next year.