Apple Maps might reach a new level of immersion if Apple opts to integrate newly patented technology that animates water, foliage and other dynamic objects based on touch, motion and sound.
Apple's U.S. Patent No. 9,147,286, granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on Tuesday, details techniques for enhancing a three-dimensional photorealistic map, such as Apple Maps' Flyover feature, by assigning animation assets to specific map elements. For example, regions defined as "bodies of water" might be tagged for a ripple wave effect, which would be contextually generated based on a variety of inputs.
Like Flyover, Apple's animation tech relies on camera captured images (CCIs), or geotagged pictures snapped by satellites, aircraft, ground vehicles or roving humans. Using a CCI's geolocation metadata, the mapping service can render a texture map by correlating specific pixels with positions on a 3D model. Shaders are then applied to render a desired animation, for example water ripples.
Instead of turning animations on full time, Apple taps into iPhone's sensor suite to inform dynamically generated effects. In some embodiments ripples form as the result of finger gestures. A panning operation might trigger a rolling wave, for example, while a tap could cause ripples to radiate out from a user's finger.
To enhance the illusion, water and other map assets can be animated based on motion, with waves forming when a user shifts an iPhone's position, orientation or tilt. Apple even describes a method by which map elements react to sound captured by an onboard microphone. Further, by treating bodies of water as a light source, buildings and surrounding static surfaces can come alive with real-time reflections.
Apple offers foliage as a second element prime for animation, with swaying trees and leaves triggered by gestures, motion or other user input. The document goes on to detail technical considerations and potential rollout scenarios using existing hardware systems.
It is not clear if Apple plans to implement a comprehensive Flyover animation engine, a process partially started with moving landmarks like London's Big Ben clock tower and the nearby London Eye ferris wheel. For now, however, it seems the Maps development team is focusing on functional add-ons, the most recent being transit navigation in iOS 9.
Apple's animated 3D maps patent was first filed for in March 2013 and credits Patrick S. Piemonte, Erik Anders Mikael Adlers and Christopher Blumenberg as its inventors.