Apple envisions interactive, augmented reality iPhone multiplayer games

By Neil Hughes

A new patent application from Apple describes iPhone games that would use the device's many sensors and capabilities -- including motion detection, GPS and camera -- to offer a new way to play and compete with friends in a real-life 3D space.

The application revealed this week, entitled "Interactive Gaming with Co-Located, Networked Direction and Location Aware Devices," describes a gaming system on an iPhone that would create an augmented reality by using the device's camera and sensing the device's location and orientation. This same "reality" would be shared by other, nearby iPhone gamers, and positioning data of each iPhone would be shared wirelessly over Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or a cellular signal.

By sharing the exact position and orientation of another user's iPhone, this system would allow the gamer to actually see and track a player on the screen.

In one example given in the application, a virtual crosshair appears on the iPhone screen, overlaying a live video image captured by the iPhone's camera. In this game, users could "fire" at an opponent in their crosshairs, and the game would be able to track whether the other user was "shot" based on the shared location data.

The application describes a number of iPhones sharing their coordinates in a three-dimensional space, relying on the sensors within the handset, including accelerometers, gyroscopes, GPS and a magnetic compass.

Apple's gaming implementation would have users lay their iPhones, or other portable devices, down next to each other, flat on a table, in close proximity. This would allow the system to calibrate and create a fixed Cartesian coordinate in a three-dimensional space.

Users would then pick up their phone and could move about to play an interactive game. The handsets would wirelessly communicate with one another, sharing their location in real-time, and allowing for interactive activities like the ability to "shoot" an opponent.

The system could also be used in connection with accessories, which could make the experience even more interactive.

"The game devices can include attachments," the application reads. "For example, a 'gun' can be attached to a game device and used by a player to target other players in the real world game environment. In this case, the orientation of the 'gun' relative to the game device can be determined."

The patent filing notes that current iPhone games use the accelerometer to allow users to move the device control a game, like steering a vehicle. In these games, the user manipulates the iPhone in response to game action.

Apple's method would instead have the game react to the user's motion, tracking their position in a 3D space. The application notes that a variety of interactive games, including something like laser tag, could utilize the relative positions and orientations of devices to create an entirely new gaming experience.

The application was made public this week by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It was first applied for in April of 2009, and is credited to Ronald Keryuan Huang, Rob Mayor, Isabel Mahe, and Patrick Piemonte.