Apple's Latest Vision: Relax! We'll Run Your Life for You

Last Updated Aug 16, 2011 12:21 PM EDT

A new Apple (AAPL) patent application submitted in 2007 and published today, Systems and methods for providing audio and visual cues via a portable electronic device, seems unprepossessing on the surface. Read between the lines, though, and you get a sense of just how expansively Apple views its future with consumers. In short, the company appears ready to help run the lives of its customers -- in potentially alarming detail.

Need a hand? How about a reminder?
Here's the patent abstract:

Methods and systems for providing a lifestyle companion system are provided. The lifestyle companion system can provide a platform to conduct a user interview. Based on the user interview responses, the system can suggest activities, references, and/or plug-in modules. During performance of activities, the system can provide audio and/or visual cues related to the activities and collect data indicative of the user's performance. Based on the collected data, the system can dynamically adapt the user's goals and/or activities the user is performing or will perform. In some embodiments of the present invention, the lifestyle companion system of the present invention can be applied to fitness, nutrition, and/or medical modules. The system also can be used to facilitate synchronous group activities.
In short, the system gets a sense of the areas that are important to you and then directs you. Don't get thrown by the specifics in this case, as it's not just about fitness and health. For example, here's something that appears in the description:
The lifestyle companion system can integrate user-selectable plug-in modules that are focused on specialized topics. For example, plug-in modules can be specialized for particular periods in a child's development, students, expectant parents, new parents, seniors, specific sports enthusiasts, food connoisseurs, geographical regions, health conditions, holidays, etc. Each module can have coordinating questionnaires, suggested activities, suggested references, instructions, logging tools, audiobooks, videos, podcasts and other types of activities or information tailored for the specialty of the module.
Aside from health and fitness, it's easy to see how this could apply to any area of a person's life: work, listening to music, reading, cooking, raising children, or household chores and repairs.

They wanna be your everything
Now for the implications. Look at this in the context of Apple's other areas of interest: consumer devices, TV, home automation, and entertainment. Many other big tech companies want to expand into all areas of customers' lives. Google's (GOOG) proposed purchase of Motorola Mobility (MMI) would forward its interests in consumer television. HP (HPQ) wants to see its webOS operating system appear in kitchens and cars. Microsoft (MSFT) has versions of Windows that appear in all sorts of devices and also has the Xbox 360 gaming consoles. RIM bought QNX, which is widely used as a software platform in automobiles.

The whole point is to lock in the relationship with consumers so they want to buy products that are compatible with the systems they already have. Apple is at something of a disadvantage here because, to date, it has been unwilling to license its operating systems (though home automation will require the company to make a compatible agent or stripped-down version of IOS available to vendors).

Need to be nosy
However, the approach this patent suggests is crafty, and it fits with Apple's overall approach:

  1. Sell a consumer on one device.
  2. Provide services or content that the consumer wants.
  3. Suggest additional services or content that the consumer might also want.
  4. Make it necessary to buy something else from Apple to retain the content or services in a convenient way in another setting.
The more consumers rely on Apple for aspects of their lives, the more inclined they'll be to buy other Apple or Apple-compliant products. Want to eat right? Get appropriate recipes from selected videos on Apple TV or pipe the video through to a home automation system that will turn the oven on and off at the appropriate times. Want to exercise? Record your heart rate and get software to give advice on how to work out. Plan an evening out? Use Apple's shopping center app technology. Eventually, Apple wants everything about people's lives to be within its walled garden.


Image: Flickr user Griggzz, CC 2.0.
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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.