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Apple investigating personal shopping assistant software for iPhone

post #1 of 13
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A new iPhone application from Apple could help shopaholics find the best deals by offering complete assistance at retail, covering everything from finding the closest parking spot to checking available inventory.

Made public by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office this week, Apple's patent application for "Accessing Shopping Center Services Using a Portable Electronic Device" describes a personal shopping assistant that could be tightly integrated with a particular shopping center. The retail location could provide regular updates shoppers through the application, allowing them to access data such as parking, store locations and nearby restaurants.

The software would obtain the personal needs of the user, and tailor the content to help them find the stores and promotions that they might be interested in. For example, users could check the availability of a particular item, quickly finding out which store has it in stock. Shoppers could also use the application to compare ratings for stores, to help them to decide where to buy a particular item if it is available at multiple stores.

One concept the application presents is a "heat map" that would indicate where popular stores in the shopping center or mall are located. The same idea could be applied to items, letting shoppers know what others are buying and what products are in demand.

The product would provide this by obtaining sales and product data rom individual stores, and the application would determine the popularity of those products, creating a real-time heat map for users to see what's hot.



The application also describes a method to help users find a parking spot, giving them options such as the nearest available parking, most available parking, or a spot closest to a specific store. Shoppers could also use the application to remember where their car is located when their shopping is complete.



The described software would have different modes depending on the intent of the user. In "casual shopping," the application would provide a current location with personalized maps. Users could brows special offers, new arrivals, or search for products.

For the more seasoned shopper, the "targeted shopping" mode would provide access to special events, grant customers the ability to reserve and pick up products, and allow them to check inventory of a specific product.



Users who go to the mall with family or friends could divide and conquer to find the best deals. Using GPS tracking in the iPhone, the software could provide real-time locations of other users -- something that could also be handy for parents letting their children shop.



The software would also take care of when it's time to take a break and eat, allowing users to view a list of restaurants at their mall or shopping center, and see if there are any open spaces available for a table. Shoppers could then make a reservation directly from their iPhone.

The application published this week was first filed by Apple in September 2009. The invention is credited to Christine Kim Cho and Stanley Carl Ng.
post #2 of 13
Chics would dig this far more than dudes... Great concept I think...
post #3 of 13
I love where this is going.

Get ready for "Made for iPhone" malls.
post #4 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

A new iPhone application from Apple could help shopaholics find the best deals by offering complete assistance at retail, covering everything from finding the closest parking spot to checking available inventory.

The trouble I see with this is that there is little incentive for Apple and others to continue focusing on the consumer and every incentive to start "shaping" the results based on whichever retailer pays money. For example, suggesting Apple stores first when looking for a computer, and not mentioning where Windows machines are sold until later. The result is that this application would go quickly downhill.

I wonder if there is a way to set it up so that this continues to work for the consumer as its primary focus? The only way I can see is a subscription service and an army of independent analysts.
post #5 of 13
I love apple!

Always making it easier for consumers to buy more crap!
post #6 of 13
This sounds great, but I wonder how Apple will make any money on it. I hope they charge retaillers to be listed. In fact, I hope that they don't list all the stores and deals, but only the ones from stores that have paid Apple and have been approved for purchases by me. That will make everything as easy as the App Store, because you know you will get a good value if they have been approved by Apple.
post #7 of 13
A logical marketing app - "let your fingers do the walking" translated to the touchscreen, with enhancements. Benefits: more efficient shopping, less wasted time. Downside: you'll want to look beyond a single, sponsored app if you're really searching for the best price or deal. Not much different from traditional advertising media in that respect. Serious power shoppers will still check out Amazon, eBay, Google and other online merchants and marketers.

Patentability? Questionable. Any proprietary concepts here that couldn't be offered in Android?

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post #8 of 13
AI: misleading headline. I clicked on it thinking Apple was investigating a bad app on its store.
A.k.a. AppleHead on other forums.
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A.k.a. AppleHead on other forums.
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post #9 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by Robin Huber View Post

AI: misleading headline. I clicked on it thinking Apple was investigating a bad app on its store.

So did I.

But more on topic, this sounds like a combination of several apps already out in the wild, well, with the exception of the heat map. Haven't heard of that one before.

Parking Spot-Open Spot (Google)
Remember Parking Spot: Where's my car, Carrrrmatey, etc
Availability-A lot of barcode scanners are integrating local results, complete with stock levels (when available)
Ratings: Where/Google Maps/yelp/etc
Places to Eat-Open Table


It sounds like a really interesting app, and I'm sure a lot of people will use it. I just don't get how Apple would be able to get a patent for it, considering most components already exist, they're just bringing them together.

Maybe the software used to determine the best parking spot is something new so they can patent it, but the whole application itself? That's ignoring a lot of prior art.
post #10 of 13
I don't see this happening, or at least not in the way its advertised.

Quote:
users could check the availability of a particular item

Why would a retailer want you to know they were out of inventory? Shops count on people wandering in and buying stuff even when they can't find exactly what they're looking for.

Quote:
One concept the application presents is a "heat map" that would indicate where popular stores in the shopping center or mall are located. The same idea could be applied to items, letting shoppers know what others are buying and what products are in demand.

So it's actually tracking you, what you're buying, and sharing that with other shoppers?

Quote:
The product would provide this by obtaining sales and product data rom individual stores, and the application would determine the popularity of those products, creating a real-time heat map for users to see what's hot.

Well, no, if it showed you "popular" stores (as it states in the previous sentence) it would need to track how many people were in it. The Coach store may have a lot of people in it with relatively few sales, think they're going to be happy being called unpopular if "popularity" is based solely on product sales? And how do you define a product - one specific item or something broader (earrings vs jewelry vs accessories)? Really hard to imagine this would be helpful to anyone except a company paying for the privilege to advertise through this app.

Quote:
The software would obtain the personal needs of the user, and tailor the content to help them find the stores and promotions that they might be interested in.

This could be so easily abused with Location services. How does it know your needs? Maybe there's a cookie-like system that tracks the stores that you go to. Maybe you want to walk into Macy's and your iPhone alarm starts going off telling you there are sales at Dillard's, or go to JC Penny's right now to redeem a 5% off coupon within 10 minutes. Can Apple resist the millions of dollars that big name stores would throw at them for access to iDevice users?

Quote:
Using GPS tracking in the iPhone, the software could provide real-time locations of other users -- something that could also be handy for parents letting their children shop.

I love my iPhone, but if Apple chooses to turn it into a device that emphasizes advertisers/companies looking through the iPhone at me, what I'm doing, and what my children are doing (that's bordering on creepy), and actively trying to advertise to me based on wherever it is I'm just standing - well, I would like my iPhone a lot less.
post #11 of 13
there is an app called "FastMall", it has many of the options that are described in the above article.
post #12 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by BlackKnight View Post

there is an app called "FastMall", it has many of the options that are described in the above article.

Yeh, the difference is, FastMall didn't patent it. This is exactly the reason I find software patents disgraceful. What Apple has come up with here is not anything special. There are a thousand apps on the App Store that do a very similar thing to this.

These type of things should not be patentable. We're going to end up in a world where huge companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft own every idea you could ever think of.
post #13 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by pixelcruncher View Post

Why would a retailer want you to know they were out of inventory? Shops count on people wandering in and buying stuff even when they can't find exactly what they're looking for.

Lots of stores do this already on their websites. I can think of two offhand - Macy's and Best Buy - which also suggest other nearby store locations where the item is in stock.

You're looking at the glass half-empty where a retailer will look at it as half-full. As a mobile shopper, I would much rather learn of a stockout on something that I'm specifically looking for without the wasted time and aggravation of walking into a store and being told by a clerk that the store is out of something. For the retailer, it's anathema to have a salable item sitting on the shelf unsold when a potential customer can be made aware of it.

Also, remember that intelligent systems can play here. On the store's behalf, the app can suggest good substitutes: "Sorry, we're out of the Widget, but you may be interested in the improved Super Widget, which we have in stock and can be ready for your pick-up in X minutes ... "

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