The Apple patent to actual Apple product ratio is pretty terrible, but sometimes you just want them to follow through. Like with iGroups! It’s a location-based social network that instantly puts you in touch with iPhone-having people around you.
The technical aspect is kind of strange: iPhones exchange Bluetooth ID tokens to create little clumps of people, which can then be joined into larger clumps by a remote server, based on their location data. From the patent:
A number of devices co-located at a geographic location can broadcast and receive tokens. Tokens can be exchanged using a communication link having limited communication range. Tokens that are received by a device can be stored locally on the device and/or transmitted to a trusted service operating remotely on a network. In some implementations, the tokens can be stored with corresponding timestamps to assist a trusted service in matching or otherwise correlating the tokens with other tokens provided by other devices. The trusted service can perform an analysis on the tokens and timestamps to identify devices that were co-located at the geographic location at or around a contact time which can be defined by the timestamps. A group can be created based on results of the analysis. Users can be identified as members of the group and invited to join the group.
Once all this token business is taken care of, you can share text, photos, contact info – whatever.
Apps ranging from Foursquare to SuperGlued can already do some of what iGroups proposes, but they’ve all got the same problem: They’re just apps. Unless your app is almost ubiquitous (like Facebook’s, for example) and people reliably open it once they’re at an event, the concept doesn’t work. Building the capability into the phone in a more integral way, or at least making sure that every iPhone has the service, could be enough to get people to use it, and the results could actually be pretty cool: there are enough iPhones out there that at any given event, you can depend on being able to communicate with a lot of people through this thing.
The optimist would see iGroups helping connect event-goers for actual human communication, while a cynic would just have visions of thousands of people spending their next concert hunched over their iPhones, texting (nearby!) strangers about how cool it is. Finally, a neutral observer would say that this thing will never see they light of day, given Apple’s record of bringing iPhone patents into existence, and he’d probably be right. But hey! [PatentlyApple]