Earlier this month, the United States Patent and Trademark Office published an application from Apple detailing their 'Interactive Map' functionality.
The application, which can be perused here, goes deep into Apple's path forward in developing their nascent, and troubled, proprietary mapping product.
The company is attempting to work towards a product that allows for display of the potentially infinite amount of information available from any given geographic area. As the filing states, "there is potentially an endless amount of information that can be included in a map of a geographic area...however, there is a practical limit on the amount of information that can be included in the limited space."
Here's how the company proposes addressing this small screen/endless information challenge.
The future looks layered
The core functionality of the filed patent is the use of layers to offer granular control of different sets of information.
The various layers would change the navigable interface, and allow map users to adapt their experience to their desired reality. The dynamic interface is not entirely new - Google Maps has had the traffic overlay for ages - but does allow for a more customizable, adaptable approach to mapping.
The filing's abstract breaks this down:
An interactive capability enables a user to dynamically adjust the content of an electronic map. Different modes can be chosen to emphasize features relevant to a particular interest, e.g. commuting, tourism, weather, etc. Combinations of modes can be selected to create a customized map.
Here's a sketch of how users may select the mapping mode:
One of the most intriguing facets is the ability for searches to happen within individual layers - for example, to see an overlay of all tourism-related locations and then refining by a visual of all nearby restaurants at once.
When a search is conducted the chosen mode functionals as a filter for the retrieved results. The map responds to user input directed to a given feature, to display information related to that feature.
The interactive part of the Interactive Map is also related to how the user engages with the touch-screen interface.
Tapping or clicking on a highway displays the locations of services along the highway. Touching two points on the map causes available routes between them to be computed and displayed to the user, along with relevant data for each route. Geospatial application can c be integrated with the map to provide information pertaining to the area displayed on the map, and to refine search results to those that are relevant to the area.
By allowing a traveler to tap two points on a map, and not only see possible routes but also points-of-interest along each route, the map allows for better decision making depending on the individual traveler's interest. This functionality also means that routes can be directly compared without having to move back and forth for comparison.
The interface would also allow users to view specific information about a highway, or even census data from a particular town within the map application.
The future looks monetized
Buried deep in the application's image bank is the core concept that could make this mapping application extremely lucrative for Apple, beyond simply providing a valuable navigation tool to iOS users:
Geospatial applications can be integrated with the map to selectively provide the user with information pertinent to the current vicinity of the user. For example, if the map is in a tourism viewing mode while the user is passing through an area of historical significance, the map can provide historical facts related to the area, either textually or audibly. While in the shopping mode, the map can display ads of stores that are in the vicinity of the user.
This is key, as the user has basically opted into the overlay and therefore has a demonstrated interest. That sort of purchase intent has never before been available on a mapping product, and would open up a highly lucrative advertising stream for Apple that could put significant pressure on Google's cash cow.
Advertisers would be able to offer deals to Apple Maps users, along the lines of what Foursquare does, using location to target deals. Demographic information will also be available to Apple, as would credit card details via iTunes, so the seamless payment future could thrive in this ecosystem.
One could even envision "sponsored overlays," similar to Promoted Trends on Twitter, where DMOs, CVBs, sporting organizations or any other organization seeking place-based exposure could accumulate points of interest on an overlay for their specific targeted demographics. Say a Super Bowl overlay, or LGBT-friendly businesses, or a list of member businesses - the possibilities are endless, especially if Apple were to create a sort of overlay database that could act like a search engine of place-based information.
This information is then tied directly to the mobile phone, providing information that can be acted on in real-time. Especially with Apple's access to credit cards, there are heaps of applications that could benefit small businesses willing to let Apple skim a percentage from a guaranteed transaction from walk-in customers - the sort of incremental revenue that all businesses are eager to access.
Scroll through Apple's patent image bank here.