Patents Show Major Changes Coming to Apple iOS Maps

Two patents submitted by Apple point to major feature enhancements under development that would dramatically change the iOS Maps app on iPhones and other mobile devices. Both patents were discovered in the past two weeks by AppleInsider. The patent diagram below shows Apple's take on augmented reality.

Apple Maps app augmented reality

Several apps have tried to implement augmented reality by overlaying graphics on top of live video from the iPhone camera. In one example, Yelp included a feature that showed nearby businesses directly on live video of the area. The app made waves two years ago as the first iOS augmented reality application, combining data from the camera, GPS and compass.

Apple looks to surpass the competition by including similar functionality in the native Maps application. Now that current iPhones include a gyroscope, data from this sensor can also be used to make the augmented reality graphics more accurate. According to Apple's patent application, street names, addresses and landmarks can all be added to a scene simply by pointing the camera at an area in the vicinity.

The application was filed in February 2010, and seeks to make it easier for those with a poor sense of direction or surrounded by missing or illegible street signs to find their way to a destination. Similarly, another patent filed during the same month uses a different technique to achieve similar goals. Titled Schematic Maps, this patent describes a method to simplify maps to deliver relevant information to the user.

For example, instead of showing all information on the mobile device screen, the Maps app would intelligently narrow down the landmarks and street names to simplify the map. The patent even goes so far as to suggest that Maps would distort its representation of reality to optimize navigation and make the most of the small screen. For those interested in maps based on reality, this functionality would serve a different purpose, putting efficiency in navigation above accuracy. The so-called "exaggeration" would happen dynamically depending on the purpose of the map being displayed.

For more information on Schematic Maps see AppleInsider. As usual, there's no telling exactly when Apple might choose to introduce these two patents into future iterations of iOS.