Apple Tries To Patent Interactive Gaming with Smartphones

Last Updated Nov 4, 2010 8:09 AM EDT

Games may have been part of the Mac for years, but Apple (AAPL) never paid genuinely strong attention to the market until the iPhone and iPod touch made the company do so. Suddenly a tolerated software category became a driving force in the acceptance of Apple's new cash cow: mobile devices running iOS. At of today, there were 245,107 active apps in the US apps store, according to 148apps.biz. Of those, 41,128, or 16.8 percent, were games.

Apple's increased interest is obvious in a number of ways, such as the announcement of the iPhone game center or the rumor that it would acquire a Chinese gaming company. Now it's time to add yet another indicator: a patent application, filed in April 2009, for "interactive gaming with co-located, networked direction and location aware devices."And this might at least partly explain the data center that Apple is building in North Carolina.

The application is for a broad "interactive game environment" that supports "two or more co-located, networked, direction and location aware interactive game devices." People using the system would have mobile devices capable of measuring position, orientation, and time. Here are some of the features:
  • There is a common geographic reference frame. Cartesian coordinates would be an example, but then so could UTM, a global standard, supported by GPS systems, for describing position in the world
  • Devices would communicate position, orientation, and time to devices of other players.
  • Each device could use the information to plot positions, directions, and rates of travel of other players.
Here's the first major claim of the patent:
A computer-implemented method performed by a first interactive game device operating in a real world, interactive game environment with a second interactive game device, comprising: receiving state information from the second interactive game device, the state information associated with a reference frame defining a virtual interactive game environment; and determining an interaction between the first interactive game device and the second interactive game device in the real world, interactive game environment using the state information.
Further claims expand on the concept in various ways, including mapping real world coordinates to a virtual world. Another independent claim seems to cover any use of a mobile computer (including smartphone) in this type of interactive gaming:
An interactive game device, comprising: a processor; and memory coupled to the processor and operable for storing instructions, which, when executed by the processor, cause the processor to perform operations comprising: receiving state information from the second interactive game device, the state information associated with a reference frame defining a virtual interactive game environment; and determining an interaction between the first interactive game device and the second interactive game device in the real world, interactive game environment using the state information.
Apple uses laser tag as an example of a game that can use "the relative positions and orientations shared between the interactive game devices to provide an enriched interactive gaming experience." This is one broad concept.

Last year I asked if Apple was developing a gaming console. It seems clear now that the iPhone is the gaming device. So now I'll add another question: Is Apple developing a game software studio? And given the massive data center that the company is building is South Carolina, maybe the question should be whether Apple is building a large interactive game system that independent developers will be able use to develop iOS gaming titles. This could become the equivalent of a MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) like World of Warcraft that is only a framework for others to develop titles.

Related: Image: courtesy EA
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.

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