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Apple patent allows smartphones to swap location data with an 'accessory device'

Illustration of '677 patent with handset (left) sending gathered location data to accessory (right).Source: USPTO

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday issued Apple a patent for the two-way communication of location data between a portable media device or handset, and an "accessory device" that can remotely display the information on its screen.

First filed for in 2009, Apple's U.S. Patent No. 8,386,677 for "Communicating location information between a portable device and an accessory" allows for any portable media device, including iPhones and iPads, to exchange GPS data with a separate accessory through wired or wireless protocols.

It should be noted that the property not only allows for iPhones or cellular enabled iPads to push location information to the accessory device, but can also provide for the accessory to feed iPad or iPod models not equipped with GPS receivers. Currently, Apple only builds in GPS capabilities to cellular iOS products.

Accessory GPS
Illustration of accessory as GPS receiver with external antenna.

There are two main embodiments for the '677 patent: one in which the handset containing a GPS module, data transport mechanism and controller sends location information to an accessory, and another that swaps device roles, with the accessory feeding the handset. In a third embodiment, both units have a GPS receiver, and are controlled by a system that defaults to whichever device has higher perceived accuracy.

In all cases, the unit receiving location data from its companion device can display the information in a number of ways, including parsing out points of interest or showing real-time GPS navigation assets.

While the implementation of a GPS-equipped accessory is straightforward — some of the first systems were simple receivers without built-in screens — the patent's language regarding the display of information on an accessory device is perhaps more intriguing given recent talk of a so-called "iWatch." There is no mention of wearable displays or bracelet-like gadgets in Tuesday's patent, but the technology described could find its way into such a peripheral.

Two patent embodiments with GPS receiver in PMD (left) and accessory device (right).

AppleInsider was first to report on an Apple patent application for what appears to be a multitouch capable watch, with the concept being very reliant on a smartphone or other computing device. Instead of running a full operating system, the described device would display information over wireless protocols, allowing users to interact with their iPhones while keeping the handset safely stowed in a pocket or purse.

The '677 patent credits Gregory T. Lydon, Ronald Keryuan Huang, Lawrence G. Bolton, Emily Clark Schubert and Jesse Lee Dorogusker as its inventors.