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Patent Patrol: Street View-Like Navigation For Apple, Including Indoors?

Apple really seems to know where it's going—toward a location-based future. Don't be surprised if it bumps into Google on the way.

Patent Patrol: Street View-Like Navigation For Apple, Including Indoors?

A fresh patent application for "3D Position Tracking for Panoramic Imagery Navigation" has been discovered by and it's unusually exciting: It's a hint that Apple has been thinking about a rival to Google's Street View ground-level navigation system.

Apple seems to have invented an interface that distinguishes itself from Street View thanks to the interactive way users can navigate through ground-level images of the street. Apple's system takes cues from augmented reality systems that use a smartphone's sensor array to work out how a user is holding and moving their phone in order to update an on-screen display. This is a cut above the slightly limited panoramic trick that Street View employs.

But Apple's user interface is really just the surface of this patent. More interesting is its idea that information alerts can be superimposed on the view of the street around the user, indicating points of interest such as shops—and these can be chosen from among a list of "layers" by the user. And then comes the novel bit where Apple imagines that the moving street level imagery could also continue inside a building as the phone is carried inside. When inside a structure, the system could display different pop-over alerts such as options to select and then purchase an item. This part of the patent is particularly interesting when you remember that Apple just bought a small firm that has expertise in indoor navigation.

Though this patent contains just a few hints, we can see that it marries with a continuing stream of patents from Apple that tap into location awareness and which build on its own mapping business. Apple's 3-D city imaging in some ways already surpasses Google's Street View—although, like Street View, it's not available everywhere across the globe, and Apple's Maps has suffered its fair share of glitches. The patent also connects to other Apple plans to help users discover and shop for items using their mobile devices. There's much speculation that Apple's iPhone for 2013 will finally integrate NFC-based contactless payment tech to make shopping easier.

Would your shopping experience be boosted by an indoor-navigation/digital info app? Or is this a gimmick whose time is far off in the future?