Apple may be next to hop on board the social networking bandwagon after the company filed a patent for an application that would unite iPhone and Mobile Me users in ad hoc groups based on their geographic location.
The patent, titled "Group Formation Using Anonymous Broadcast Information," which was filed with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, outlines details of a proposed location-aware mobile application delivered via token-based system that would enable iPhone and other mobile device users to discover each other and ultimately congregate when in the same physical space, such as a business meeting, tradeshow, wedding or concert.
"During private or public events, a typical individual may have many brief contacts with individuals for which they would like to have further correspondence post event," Apple said in its patent.
The Tokens would be received and stored locally on the users' iPhone or mobile device with corresponding timestamps, which would enable a service to match or correlate the tokens with other tokens of users in the same geographic location. The service would then perform an analysis on the tokens and timestamps to hone in on the locations of other iPhone/mobile device users.
"Modern wireless devices can operate in an ad hoc mode, which allows wireless devices within range of each other to discover and communicate in peer-to-peer fashion without involving central access points," Apple said in its patent. "A group can be created based on results of the analysis. Users can be identified as members of the group and invited to join the group."
In its patent, Apple uses the example of users at a rock concert, in which various attendees set their Bluetooth-enabled devices to Token Exchange mode. The devices within transmission range begin exchanging and storing tokens. Then during or after the concert, the device holders upload their tokens to a trusted service that maintains a database of device data secured by authentication and encryption technologies. Device holders can then set up accounts through the service's Website portal in order to post or relay personal information and secret data, including physical location, to other device holders with the aim of forming live groups.
However, the tentative ad hoc networks only exists while the users' devices are within close proximity, as in a concert hall, hotel, or convention center. "There is no facility for regenerating the network at a later time to allow users to continue discussions or exchange content," Apple said.
With its tentative foray into location-aware mobile applications, Apple is attempting to play catch-up in the social networking arena, while putting itself on a competitive playing field with Facebook and microblogging site Twitter, the latter of which already enables users to specify exact geographic locations for their "tweets," which appear on the Twitter site or through other third party applications.