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Apple patent seeks to reinvent retail

It's all about the 'benefits'

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Apple has filed a sweeping patent application for a technology suite designed to provide iPhone users with a broad range of real-time product information, special offers, sales opportunities, and related services in stores, restaurants, and other retail establishments.

The filing also points to the inclusion of near-field communication (NFC) technology in upcoming iPhones — and, for that matter, in Macs and media devices such as the Apple TV.

The system described relies primarily on two methods of obtaining information on products or services: a reader using the aforementioned NFC tech to get data from an RFID or its equivalent placed on a product, owners manual, point-of-sale device or display, and the like; or a matrix bar code to be read by the iPhone's camera and decoded by an iPhone app or iOS element. Both an RFID or a matrix bar code, of course, would need to be placed on the product by their manufacturer.

Product information could also be provided by an internet connection, in an email message, or an in-store kiosk.

Apple product-information patent illustration

Products, user manuals, email, point-of-sale, kiosks — all can be sources of info

The unusually comprehensive 83-page filing, "System and method for providing content associated with a product or service" has the self-described focus of "managing benefits associated with a product or service".

"Benefits" is a broad term in the context of the filing, and could be supplied either by the RFID associated with the product, or by the RFID or matrix bar code initiating a web download.

Apple product-information patent illustration

A store's point-of-sale system can provide info based on a product's SKU

Product information, as described in the filing, could include specs, recommended peripherals, user manuals, set-up videos, and "a troubleshooting information wizard".

In addition to product information, the filing describes other benefits, including digital content such as music or videos, discounts on and information about items related to the product or service, and discounts or "prepaid refreshments" related to the product or service.

Apple product-information patent illustration

Product information can arrive by email, which you can add to your product collection ... or not

For event-based servies such as ticket sales, the benefits could include discounts or event-related merchandise, or "other related content" such as a digital map to the event, reviews of the performers involved, or a recording of a concert after the concert is over.

One example of a benefit that would be welcome to users with fading eyesight who have to break out a magnifying glass to read infinitesimal serial numbers would be the ability to have the RFID or matrix bar code enable the iPhone to display a product's serial number in a readable-sized font.

Apple product-information patent illustration

The next-gen iPhone may be NFC-capable and come preloaded with a 'Products +' app

The filing also describes a "product benefit management application" for the iPhone, Mac, or Apple TV that it calls "Products +". Using this application, users can store and manage information about products and services they either have purchased or are interested in investigating.

Users can add or subtract products and services to and from the Products + app, share info over email, scan kiosks for information about a particular product or service, or buy items online.

Apple product-information patent illustration

Info tages can be placed on everything from The Economist to lattes to 'Delicious Brownies'

A host of examples are listed in the 83-page filing. Examples include:

  • Bellying up to a the bar in a pub and checking out the event calendar for that establishment
  • Walking down a supermarket aisle and reading recipes related to items on the shelves, complete with instructional videos
  • Scanning the packaging of a movie DVD and being shown that movie's trailer, snippets of its soundtrack, and online reviews
  • Sitting in a coffee shop and purchasing the tunes that's being played over the shop's sound system
  • Dining in a restaurant and receiving nutritional information about your meal
  • Receiving the answers to problem sets in textbooks or reviews of novels in, uh, novels
  • Scanning software packaging and watching a video tutorial
  • Scanning magazine inserts and blow-in cards that provide info or discounts on the products advertised

As you might surmise, the possibilities are essentially endless. Or, in patent-speak: "It should be understood that the benefits described ... are intended to be exemplary and not exclusive." ®

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