Apple's already patented extensively in the location-based app space. And hints of a "Find My Friends" API code have been found in the iPhone's OS. Now this newly revealed patent application would seem to be a completely natural extension of this tech. (And yes, we know predicting future use of an Apple patent is a risky affair, but ...)
It's all about, as Apple puts it, working out "common interests and experiences of two or more users" from their device and web content and noting if they're "located close to each other." Yup, it's a dating service, from Apple.
Well, technically it's more than that, but a dating implementation is certainly possible. Here's the relevant bit of the text:
A typical modern computer-implemented social networking application requires each user to provide some biographical information, and/or identify his or her interests, and in some instances can suggest to the user other users with compatible interests. For example, some websites such as LinkedIn.com or Facebook.com require participants to register as members.
But of course we all cram our iPhones with reams of this personal data right from the start, some of it above and beyond what we'd share on any particular site like Facebook. Apple imagines that this data could be automatically scanned, or curated by a user intending to portray a particular public image, and then used as a wireless "beacon" to generate an ad-hoc social network of similar-minded folk. And there's a wrinkle:
Techniques for ad hoc networking based on content and location can be implemented to achieve the following exemplary advantages. Two strangers located closed to each other, both having requested to participate in the ad hoc networking based on content and location, can start a conversation from common interests or experiences identified by the ad hoc networking based on content and location. The identified common interests or experiences can be based on actions a user actually performed, rather that what the user says he or she did or liked.
Apple's realized that where you've been with your phone is also a useful social parameter, as is what photos from your collection you've chosen to share and which type of song you've downloaded from iTunes. The idea is that a spontaneous "icebreaker" popup will then appear on your iPhone, assuming you've opted in to this sort of interaction (which will have to be stringently policed if Apple ever uses this, to avoid accusations of abuse of data privacy), and you may go off and have a real-world conversation with a nearby person you'd never have met otherwise.
It's kind of clever, and it's extremely possible with the current state of mobile tech (which has developed a lot since the patent's filing in 2009). It's also a hint that our online social networking systems may, in the future, cross into real-world interactions—a behavior we're already seeing bursts of in the ongoing flash mob phenomenon. But can you really imagine sitting on a crowded metro, having your phone ping you, and actually thinking "Neat! Someone else nearby is a Meatloaf fan, likes to eat meatloaf too, and is looking for friendship!" and then actually going to talk to them? In a post-Sidekick world, maybe it's a behavior pattern for the kids.