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Apple shows continued interest in an ad-supported operating system

Apple could be creating an operating system supported by advertisements, allowing users to obtain the software at a reduced price, or for free, in exchange for being required to view ads.

The patent application for the invention "Advertisement in Operating System" was republished as a continuation this week. It was first revealed last October, and was originally filed for on April 18, 2008. The invention is credited to Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs, as well as Freddy A. Anzures, Mike Matas, Gregory N. Christie and Patrick Coffman.

The application describes an operating system that would present the user with an advertisement, preventing them from doing basic functions on the system for a set period of time. At the conclusion of the advertisement, the user would be able to resume their activities on the machine.

"The operating system can disable one or more functions while the advertisement is being presented," the application reads. "At the end of the advertisement, the operating system can again enable the function(s). The advertisement can be visual or audible. The presentation of the advertisement(s) can be made as part of an approach where the user obtains a good or service, such as the operating system, for free or at reduced cost."

Advertisements could be shown at pre-set intervals, based on an internal timer in the system. Users could also pre-buy additional time to use the computer, allowing them a greater span where they will not be interrupted by an advertisement.

Such a system could be used on computers placed in public places, allowing free access to the Internet on a terminal without paying a fee. Users could also choose to pay the fee and avoid the advertisements if they wish.

The concept is similar to pre-roll advertisements found on streaming media sites like YouTube and Hulu. Occasionally, when watching a video on Hulu, users are presented with the option of watching one long advertisement before the content begins, or having a number of shorter ads appear at intervals throughout the video.

According to the patent application, users could also choose to access the advertisements when they choose, delaying an ad by 10 minutes, or choosing to watch one immediately. This would help to ensure that the ad is not overly intrusive, appearing while the user was in the middle of an important task.

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A drop-down selection from the Mac OS X menu bar would also give users the ability to watch the previous or recent ads, and also to visit the website of an advertiser.

While the application specifically shows the system on a Mac OS X-like desktop operating system, the document specifically notes that it could be implemented with any device that has a visual user interface, including smartphones, set top boxes, embedded devices and televisions.

The republishing of the patent, due to continuation, is noteworthy because Apple has since entered the advertising business with its interactive iAds platform. Apple hopes to redefine the market for mobile advertisements by creating unique content that acts like an application, allowing users to play games, watch video clips and find local stores. All of this can be done within an application in iOS 4, without the need to launch a separate Web browser.

The iAds network launched on July 1, and Apple has high hopes for its fledgling business. The company revealed in June that it believes it will take a nearly 50 percent share of mobile ads in the second half of 2010.