Apple Answers Google Latitude as Google Eyes Contextual Ads

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-01-04

Apple Answers Google Latitude as Google Eyes Contextual Ads

Internet sleuths detected intriguing patents from Google and Apple, which are increasingly trading blows over the desktop and mobile Web.

The United States Patent & Trademark Office Dec. 31 published Apple's location-sharing patent and Patent & Trademark Office position fix indicator patent, both of which describe functionality akin to what Google Latitude provides for users.

Google Latitude is the location-based social networking feature for Google Maps for Mobile that lets users see the approximate location of friends who opt to share their location.

Google launched Latitude on Android, BlackBerry, Symbian and Window Mobile phones in February 2009, but conspicuously the company didn't provide the tool for Apple's iPhone. Google in July launched Latitude as a Web application for the iPhone and explained:

"After we developed a Latitude application for the iPhone, Apple requested we release Latitude as a Web application in order to avoid confusion with Maps on the iPhone, which uses Google to serve maps tiles."

But these new Apple patents suggest Apple was perhaps protecting its own interests. The abstract for the location sharing patent explained:

"Geographic location data is sent from a first device to a second device with a modified message to signal the presence of geographic location data associated with the message. The message can include (or attach) the geographic location data or file, or the message can include a link to a network-based resource which the second device can use to obtain the geographic location data."

Moreover, the patent noted that when a user of the first device views a location on a map display of the first device, a graphical UI is displayed to let the user share the geographic location with the second device. The second device receives geographic location data or a link from the first device, which can trigger a map display on the second device showing the location of the first device and the location of the second device.

The position fix indicator abstract described methods for: obtaining a first position measure at a mobile device indicating a geographic area where the mobile device is located, presenting a first graphical indicator on a user interface representing the geographic area; obtaining a second position measure at the mobile device, indicating a location associated with the mobile device, and within the geographic area; and presenting a second graphical indicator on the user interface representing the location within the geographic area.

Google and Apples Patents Spice Up Web War

In other words, this position fix indicator patent would help connect the dots for iPhone's location sharing service.

These patents describe location-based compass technology that seems a lot like what Google offers with Latitude. This would certainly explain why Apple was reticent to bless its rival's service, as 9to5Mac noted:

"Obviously if Apple is working on their own version of Google Latitude (or owns the IP rights to this functionality), they'd be hesitant to put an app with the same functionality on their devices from another company."

Meanwhile, the Google Rumors blog reported Jan. 1 that Google has filed a patent to boost the contextual relevance of image and video ads.

This ad category, particularly in the context of mobile devices, is a big business if Google, Yahoo, Microsoft or any of dozens of Internet companies can successfully create formulas to make money from it.

This patent, published by the USPTO Dec. 29, calls for a way to upload a display ad and compare it to other ads via a "document processor," which analyzes images, sound files, and other data to identify text and images (as well as spoken words and other data) in the image ad.

"For instance, text may be identified in an image using optical character recognition (OCR) technology. By comparing the document to other documents, content can be identified in and associated with the document, and the document can be accordingly rated and approved based on this content and the status of the ratings of the comparison documents. The document can also be associated with content-based concepts (e.g., keywords, subject matter, etc.) that relate to a service or product associated with the documents."

Asked for additional comment on Google's plans for this patent, a Google spokesperson wrote back:

"We file patent applications on a variety of ideas that our employees come up with. Some of those ideas later mature into real products or services, some don't. Prospective product announcements should not necessarily be inferred from our patent applications."

Of course, this technology is not a weapon Google would wield versus Apple in the way Apple's patent seems to obviate Google Latitude on the iPhone. However, the patents point to the directions Apple and Google are taking as the frenemies proceed in 2010.

Rocket Fuel