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Apple investigating personal shopping assistant software for iPhone

A new iPhone application from Apple could help shopaholics find the best deals by offering complete assistance at retail, covering everything from finding the closest parking spot to checking available inventory.

Made public by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office this week, Apple's patent application for "Accessing Shopping Center Services Using a Portable Electronic Device" describes a personal shopping assistant that could be tightly integrated with a particular shopping center. The retail location could provide regular updates shoppers through the application, allowing them to access data such as parking, store locations and nearby restaurants.

The software would obtain the personal needs of the user, and tailor the content to help them find the stores and promotions that they might be interested in. For example, users could check the availability of a particular item, quickly finding out which store has it in stock. Shoppers could also use the application to compare ratings for stores, to help them to decide where to buy a particular item if it is available at multiple stores.

One concept the application presents is a "heat map" that would indicate where popular stores in the shopping center or mall are located. The same idea could be applied to items, letting shoppers know what others are buying and what products are in demand.

The product would provide this by obtaining sales and product data rom individual stores, and the application would determine the popularity of those products, creating a real-time heat map for users to see what's hot.

Patent 1

The application also describes a method to help users find a parking spot, giving them options such as the nearest available parking, most available parking, or a spot closest to a specific store. Shoppers could also use the application to remember where their car is located when their shopping is complete.

Patent 2

The described software would have different modes depending on the intent of the user. In "casual shopping," the application would provide a current location with personalized maps. Users could brows special offers, new arrivals, or search for products.

For the more seasoned shopper, the "targeted shopping" mode would provide access to special events, grant customers the ability to reserve and pick up products, and allow them to check inventory of a specific product.

Patent 3

Users who go to the mall with family or friends could divide and conquer to find the best deals. Using GPS tracking in the iPhone, the software could provide real-time locations of other users —something that could also be handy for parents letting their children shop.

Patent 4

The software would also take care of when it's time to take a break and eat, allowing users to view a list of restaurants at their mall or shopping center, and see if there are any open spaces available for a table. Shoppers could then make a reservation directly from their iPhone.

The application published this week was first filed by Apple in September 2009. The invention is credited to Christine Kim Cho and Stanley Carl Ng.