This week, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office revealed a patent filed by Apple for "Transitional Data Sets" - a technology that would update an iPhone's home screen based on your current physical location. Of course, as with all patents filed by major technology companies, a patent won't necessarily translate to an actual feature - it just represents intellectual property. For this reason, we don't typically report on every new patent application that comes through the U.S. PTO, but in this case, we couldn't help ourselves. The concept behind the location-aware home screen is one we want now. It represents everything a smartphone should be.
A Location-Aware Home Screen
According to AppleInsider, which recently detailed the proposed features, the iPhone's home screen would be populated by location-aware applications that automatically update based on the current location of the mobile device. The phone's location could be determined by GPS, cell tower triangulation, or even Wi-Fi.
In the drawing accompanying the patent application, the phone's home screen displays apps for local weather, local time, local maps, local contacts, and settings. The icons themselves could even be updated to reflect the new location. For example, the patent filing describes an icon that displays the Golden Gate Bridge when the phone is in San Francisco, but that icon could change to display the skyline of New York City when the phone is located there.
Not only would the location-aware home screen automatically update the apps' icons, the technology could actually permit the phone's owner to save what are being called "transitional data sets." Like it sounds, these represent data that is displayed based on the device's physical location. For example, the proposed location-based contacts application would display just the contacts local to the city you're visiting at the time, as opposed to your entire contacts database. A local mapping application could let you bookmark your favorite restaurants for that particular city. The local time application would know that it's now on the west coast and not the east.
These transitional data sets would initially have to be configured by the end user before they became automatic. This means that the first time you visit a city, you may have to set the weather application yourself. To do so, the patent proposes a "here" button that you would tap to pull up the local forecast. However, after doing so, the location-aware device could automatically populate the weather application to display the weather for that location whenever you traveled to that city.
Apple's Own Apps Need to be Made More Location-Aware
It's interesting that with so many location-aware applications already available in the iPhone App Store, Apple's own default apps (contacts, weather, time, etc.) seem to be the ones in need of a location-aware update. We almost take it for granted that on our iPhone, our favorite movie showtime app knows what theater is nearby. Or when we launch Yelp, we have an entire section that helps us locate nearby businesses. Why shouldn't Apple's own home screen apps operate the same way? Why should we have to manually configure the weather app to know where we are? Why should we have to add new clocks as we travel the country?
Even if the technology described in this patent is never integrated into the phone itself, we think it's only a matter of time before Apple introduces some way for its own apps to become more location-aware. Now that we think about it, isn't it odd that they haven't already?