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Thursday, December 23, 2010, 05:30 am PT (08:30 am ET)

Apple's 'Friend Locator' app could allow remote iPhone tracking

Friends could more easily find each other, or parents could track their child's location with a new push-based location service proposed by Apple similar to Google Latitude.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office released a new application this week from Apple entitled "Push-Based Location Update." The proposed invention relies on a new iPhone application entitled "Friend Locator" that would allow users of Apple's smartphone to willingly share their location with others.

In the proposed invention, location is shared through updates requested by Apple's push notification service. Users have the ability to automatically share their location via GPS, or manually send an update.

A push update for a user's current location can also be triggered by the owner of another device, who may be requesting the information. This would rely on the the "Friend Locator" iPhone application illustrated in the patent filing.

Signing in with an e-mail address and password, users could access the Friend Locator application that would contain a virtual "Friend List." From here, friends could be tracked based on their name, distance or "visibility," meaning whether the user has turned off location sharing.

Patent 1


Within this application, someone's name could be selected, and their location would show up as a digital "push pin" on a map. From here, directions to the person's location could be obtained.

Users could also choose what information is shared or kept private, such as their home address, mobile number, or current location. The Friend Locator app would also give users the ability to hide their current location from a single, specific user.

Patent 2


The patent application was filed on June 17, 2009, and was made public this week. The proposed invention is credited to Richard Williamson, Christopher Blumenberg, Seejo Pylappan, and Howard James.

The described service is essentially Apple's own take on Google Latitude, which also shares friends' locations and directions to their current spot. But Apple's method would be a native application that could be accessed with an iTunes account login.

The Google Latitude application was initially refused from the iPhone App Store, because Apple was concerned the software could "create user confusion" with the preloaded Maps app. But the Google Latitude app eventually appeared on the App Store earlier this month, allowing users to see where their friends are and share their current location in the background via GPS.