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The concept turned up in a 19-page patent filing discovered by AppleInsider this week, which begins by outlining some of the common problems with conventional media distribution kiosks, namely that they require users to pair their media devices and portable products via a physical connection that could prove troublesome or damaging.
"The continuous engagement and disengagement of the media device connector may result in excessive wear and failure of the connector," Apple explains. "Also, because certain media distribution systems may be located in public places, a connector of the media distribution system may be exposed to tampering by users or excessive exposure to environmental conditions."
The company adds that using a traditional and open WiFi connection may be one alternative, but says this too presents a variety of problems, such as the potential for eavesdropping, hacking, and overloading when an excessive numbers of devices attempt to access the same wireless connection.
Apple's solution to this problem, and the core of its patent filing, is to therefore establish "a virtual physical connection" between the kiosk and media device, whereby the kiosk first has a means of determining the physical presence of the media device in its proximity and then establishes a wireless data channel with the media device.
The kiosks themselves would be tied into a two-prong distribution system that may include a local media server filled with popular media that users are most likely to purchase, such as new album and movie releases, thereby making them most readily accessible.
Supplementing the local media server would be a connection between the kiosk and the iTunes Store, which would provide broad access all the audio and video media available through the digital download service. Users could provide their iTunes login and password to download content they select using the keyboard and screen on the kiosk, or swipe their credit card to buy content that may be more readily accessible on the local media server.
These kiosks would be particularly useful for users who are traveling, don't have access to a wireless connection to access the iTunes Store, but wish to load their iPod, iPhone, computer, or tablet device with a movie or audio album before — or even after — boarding a flight, ship or train, Apple says.
"The media distribution system advantageously enables the distribution of media content to a media device via a [media distribution kiosk] residing in virtually any location such as an airport, hotel, stadium, train station, shopping mall, stores, planes, ships, public transportation vehicles, and the like," the company wrote in the filing. "Even a wireless media device may have limited or no access to a particular wireless service provider's data network in certain geographic areas or locations. Thus, a [media distribution kiosk] may enable the media device to access the media distribution system even where a wireless service provider's network is not available."
The Apple employee credited with the filing is Thomas Mavrakakis.