Some attention has been lavished on a recent Apple patent that involves using custom icons on the iPhone's homescreen—darn useful for contacts management. But inside the patent is something far more intriguing: adverts that know where you are.
Most commenters on the new patent are concentrating on the way it will relate to contact management on the iPhone—essentially it'll revolutionize the way it's currently done by letting you drop contacts onto the iPhone's home screens, complete with a photo icon. It's one of those obvious tricks that adds massive utility and Android OS already has something a little like it. Apple's patent actually suggests that the icons would be pretty powerful—with corner alert flags that'll let you know if the contact has SMSed you, phoned you, or perhaps emailed you.
But wait for it: The big secret in the patent is for a far more dynamic adaptation to how the iPhone's home screen works, using a similar sort of contact app/icon mechanism. Apple's idea is to allow new app icons to pop up on screen under the control of a nearby system or device. Essentially the iPhone would broadcast a Wi-fi or Bluetooth signal that it was capable of receiving an incoming app, and the download and installation would happen automatically. According to the patent details the icon needn't even be a permanent thing—it could be temporary, and it could be location-sensitive.
In other words, Apple's possibly planning to build location-aware advertising powers right into the iPhone's OS. You'd pop into a coffee shop, your iPhone and the store's PC would handshake, and bingo: Up pops a new icon on the screen, with the store's contact details or perhaps advertising the day's special offer. The system would also be able to do the same sort of dynamic app installation based on GPS—imagine you're strolling through London's Trafalgar Square, and you get a pop-up icon (downloaded via 3G) inviting you into the nearby National Portrait Museum, perhaps with a tempting discount voucher for the museum's tea shop. These apps could even remain installed once you leave the area—acting as a gentle advertising prompt.
Both these ideas are simple, yet powerful. You know what? Both are actually relatively easy for Apple to code in to the iPhone's OS, particularly now Apple's bought up mobile Web ad specialist Quattro Wireless. I wonder if that's one of the reasons why Apple seems to have slowed down in releasing developer-test versions of the next OS update. And there's another thing to ponder on: This system could just as easily work on the Apple Tablet—where a pop-up, full-screen, full-color location aware advert would certainly grab more user attention.