Apple Seeks Patent For Mobile Social Networking

The patent application describes a service called iGroups that would enable mobile device users to share geographic location data.
Apple is seeking a patent for technology that would make it possible for users of the iPhone or other mobile devices to form an ad hoc social network to communicate and share information during tradeshows, concerts, rallies or other event.

Apple filed the patent application Thursday with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the Web site Patently Apple reported.

The patent application describes a service called iGroups that would enable people to share geographic location data in order to connect using an iPhone or other mobile device. People who agree to join the network would be able to broadcast information in real-time through text and instant messaging and also share files, such as pictures or video.

The service would be available to people with devices other than the iPhone. Although the service is not mentioned by name, Apple's MobileMe service could be used to add mobile phones without GPS to a group.

Members' calendars, address books, and other application could be used to provide additional information and services to the ad-hoc network, the patent application says. Apple also notes that a group could be targeted for location-based service from advertisers.

"Concert attendees in a group can be sent coupons to purchase music or other items related to the concert or invited to join a fan club of the performer, etc.," the application says.

A patent application does not always lead to a new product or service. However, if Apple were to launch iGroups, it would not be the first company to offer applications to connect people in social events. Companies offering similar services today include Loopt and FourSquare.

Apple has a strict policy of not discussing upcoming products. But there are indicators that an iGroups service is possible. For example, Apple purchased last year a mapping company Placebase.

In addition, Apple has been unfriendly to rival Google's attempts to leverage the iPhone for location-based services. Apple last year reportedly refused to let Google offer Latitude, a Google Maps location-sharing service, as a native iPhone application downloaded from the iTunes App Store. As a result, Google released Latitude as a Web application that requires users to access the service using iPhone's Safari Web browser.

Editor's Choice
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer
Carrie Pallardy, Contributing Reporter
Roger Burkhardt, Capital Markets Chief Technology Officer, Broadridge Financial Solutions
Shane Snider, Senior Writer, InformationWeek
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
Brandon Taylor, Digital Editorial Program Manager
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author