Last Updated Nov 16, 2009 12:02 PM EST
Just last week, the New York Times noticed that Apple had filed a patent application for a way to force users to watch ads, disabling a device until a person responds in some way. No disengaged viewers averting their eyes until the ad is over in the land of Steve Jobs, who comes first in the list of inventors on the patent application. The application explicitly says that the technology could be buried in the operating system, or even hard-wired implemented, so that there would be no escaping the technology. It also states that the approach could be used to let a user obtain "a good or service, such as the operating system, for free or at reduced cost."
This wasn't the only time last week that the Apple name appeared connected to advertising. There was the news that Apple approached mobile advertising company AdMob before Google placed its winning $750 million bid. Given that any talk of online advertising means either siding with or against Google, you might ask if even as far back as April 2008, the filing date of this application, whether Apple might have been setting sites on its "partner," whose CEO until recently sat on Apple's board.
Let's bring another patent application into play, shall we? Application 20090281724, filed in May 2008, is for "a 'live' network-based query for search is performed (e.g., performed automatically) in response to a map display update or other trigger event." In some implementations, you could see where you were, choose a destination, and then see a route getting you there. Sounds like potential competition for MapQuest or Yahoo (YHOO) or ... Google. And then there's application 20090281843, which describes a calendaring scheduling system that can schedule a meeting in an available facility and then let attendees know. Calendaring? That might target Microsoft ... or Google. And then there is that large server farm that Apple is building. It would seem that for a good amount of the time that Eric Schmidt sat its board, Apple was developing technologies to challenge Google.
A separate but also interesting possibility that the technology to force people to watch mobile ads is whether it gives Apple a way to finally go broadly mainstream with the iPhone or even that rumored tablet, not suffer a perception of price reduction and the accompanying dilution of brand, and still get its money's worth. Suddenly the company could more easily compete with low-cost vendors, bring its own technology to bear, and not have to play in the low margin pits.