Apple has been working on this technology since 2008 - when it applied for a patent (Group Formation Using Anonymous Broadcast Information) for a new mobile technology that it is now calling iGroup - as the USPTO revealed today. The communications-based social networking applications will be location-aware, and allow users to start a temporary social network, enjoying the advantages of video conferencing, text/voice chat, and file/business card exchanges.
The temporary social network that users can create will be a closed group, and will also allow users to see who within the group is in close proximity to them, using a location-aware technology which will probably be powered by GPS. According to Patently Apple, a website that keeps track of Apple's patent filings, iGroup is a “new service that will work on your iPhone and likely work with [Apple's] MobileMe”. It goes on to say that the “idea is to allow groups of friends or colleagues attending such events as a concert, a tradeshow, business meeting, wedding or rally to stay in communication with each other as a group to share information or reactions to live events as they're occurring.”
The iGroup technology is based on a cryptographic key generation system, which generates “tokens” to ensure security and privacy of your communications, while at the same time, allows phones without GPS technology to still be location aware by using a real-time “virtual GPS” technology. The token will be shared via Bluetooth to create a instant real-time wireless social network, using a router as an access point. Tokens will be anonymous, and cannot be used to identify a particular device or its owner, unless part of the closed group. The tokens are analysed by the service to provide information using time-stamps and geographical location. After the analysis, the resultant users can be asked to join the group.
The iGroup application will be supported by the June-to-release iPhone 4.0 OS, but will probably also be supported by the current 1.3 iPhone OS also. See the actual patent here, visit Patently Apple's iGroup page here, and don't forget to check-out the photo gallery below, which contains some blueprint diagrams from the patent application.