Is Apple developing a social networking app for iPhone?
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has awarded Apple a patent that describes a location-based social-networking application for the iPhone.
The patent, discovered by Apple blog Patently Apple, describes a location-based app, called iGroups, that would enable users to form a social network with others around them. The main focus is to deliver a social-networking-like service, while maintaining a person's privacy.
"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 wrote in the patent application. "With conventional social network websites, the individual would have to collect personal information from the contacts, manually create a social network on the social network website and invite the contacts to join."
Apple doesn't like that. IGroups would enable users to create an ad-hoc group during and after an event and communicate in real-time without being forced to share private information typically found on social networks, like Facebook or Twitter. IGroups works within a specific proximity, which means users are able to communicate with others in the group only when they are near one another.
The idea behind iGroups isn't all that unique. The service is similar to other location-based tools, like Foursquare and Loopt, that access a person's geographic location through their mobile phones to help them establish a social network with others in their area.
It's also worth noting that there is already an app called iGroup in Apple's App Store. If Apple ever releases its iGroups application, it will either need to change its program's name or work out a deal with the original iGroup developer.
But whether Apple will actually release iGroups is unknown. Like most tech companies, Apple files for several patents that sometimes turn into products and sometimes don't. For now, Apple has said nothing about iGroups, and there is no reason to believe that it will be coming to the iPhone or other mobile devices any time soon.
That said, given the recent meteoric rise of location-based social-networking applications, it would be the perfect time for Apple to join the fray.
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the patent application.
Image: A view of the iGroups app in action. Credit: Apple/U.S. PTO