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January 31, 2013
3 Min Read
Apple sees you as a cash machine, not merely as the source of revenue that pays for its products, but as a provider of paper money to other people.
The company has filed an application to patent what it's calling an "ad hoc cash-dispensing network."
The term ad hoc means "for this," and it is used to refer to something done for a particular purpose, in a manner that's often temporary. Apple is using the term to refer to individuals who, through an iOS app backed by Apple cloud infrastructure, meet so that one can obtain cash from the other.
There have been peer-to-peer finance companies like Funding Circle, Ratesetter and Zopa for years. But they merely coordinate loans; they don't dispense $20 bills. Apple appears to believe that it can combine electronic wallets with real ones.
The patent application refers to a "cash-dispensing server." While the wording is probably deliberately broad enough to encompass an actual mechanical cash dispenser, it's clear that Apple envisions people traveling to pass cash to each other on-demand.
[ Censorship is harder when communication is combined with code. Read China's GitHub Censorship Dilemma. ]
One of the patent application's claims is "a method for transferring cash ... comprising: selecting a meeting location and time based on the location of the requesting party and the providing party; and transmitting the determined meeting location and time to the requesting party and the providing party."
Though the patent application describes the use of digital certificates to track the exchange of cash, its focus on coordinating the meeting of two people only makes sense if cash will be exchanged. Where electronic credit is concerned, transmission beats walking.
As Apple imagines this service, both the company and its "servers" will be paid for their trouble. "For example, in a scenario in which $50 is requested and properly transferred between the requesting user and the providing user," the patent application says, "the cash dispensing server may deduct from the requesting user's account $50 to cover the requested amount of cash, $5 to cover the service fee and $3 to cover the reward amount to the providing user."
It seems unlikely that $8 in fees for a $50 cash withdrawal will appeal to urban iPhone users where no-fee ATMs are abundant and where services like TaskRabbit might be able to provide cash at a lower cost. But perhaps the novelty of on-demand social interaction, the security of a robust tracking infrastructure and the convenience of having the cash-bearer come to meet you will encourage participation, particularly if the cash source can show up in less time than it would take to walk to the closest ATM.
A fee structure that rewards Apple less and those opening their wallets more might provide a greater incentive to participate.
Apple doesn't address the potential for abuse except in its allowance that participants might want to limit their interactions to people in their social network, or friends of friends. "This familiarity will increase the trust level between the requesting user and proximate users," the patent application states.
As with any patent application, there's no guarantee the patent will be granted, even if it seems that patent examiners reflexively see innovation in what others would consider obvious and unprotectable. There's also no guarantee Apple will ever introduce such a service. But it's an intriguing idea.
About the Author(s)
Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility
Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.
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