iGroups: Apple's Coming Wireless Social Networking App
The US Patent Office released the text of an Apple patent application
today that describes a social networking service which would use your mobile device's location to link you up with other people in your vicinity. Basically a Bump without bumping, the app - which will apparently be called iGroups - will allow you to wirelessly exchange contact information, your schedule, and your exact location with others. The iGroups app would use public-key cryptography to allow users to exchange their personal info securely over what is called a "trusted service:" probably a future version of MobileMe.
Patently Apple describes the technology
, which would involve the wireless exchange of "tokens" - cryptographic public keys containing chunks of data - over Bluetooth or WiFi. Unless permitted by the person who generates the token, you can't decrypt it to identify the user. iGroups would form around gatherings like concerts, sporting event, meetings or parties. If you want to start an iGroup, you set your iPhone in Token Exchange mode and it begins gathering up all the tokens of the people in your vicinity. The system will figure out that you're at a particular event by relating the GPS data in your token to those from other devices - called 'anchors' - that are located nearby. Interestingly, the patent application also details how devices that don't have GPS can be triangulated by nearby devices that do, so that they are included in the token exchange as well.
Users can choose to join the iGroup, and can decide how much information to share: it could be your full contact information and/or your location, or you could keep more information private. The iGroups app would have the ability to share data with other apps such as Calendar and Address Book, as well as Messaging and Mail to allow members of iGroups to communicate and plan things together.
This patent is another example of Apple's aggressive move into services and not just hardware. Rumors of a future cloud-based iTunes have grown since Apple's acquisition of Lala.com last year, and previously revealed patents have shown Apple's plan to deliver seamless on-the-go syncing of multiple devices in the cloud. 2010 has especially been the year of geolocation, as Apple patents have been uncovered that show other location-based social networking
and marketing services
. As Apple moves more and more into mobile devices, it's not surprising that they are looking for "killer apps" to make these devices more attractive.