Future iPhones may use AR to make the Find My app clearer, more precise

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Rather than an arrow pointing in the direction of a lost item, Apple's Find My app may show a live camera image and annotate it with Apple AR.

Apple has previously been reported to be planning to use Apple AR in the Find My app. Those reports included much evidence that it would be featured in iOS 14, but it has yet to appear.

Now a newly-revealed patent backs up those reports with details of how such a system could work. "Tracking systems for electronic devices," is concerned primarily with how Find My tracks devices, but then also display what it calls "a visual aid."

"The control circuitry [of the iPhone] may use the display or other output device to guide a user to the item," says the patent. "The display may display a visual guide such as an arrow, a sphere, a circle, a compass, a map, or other visual aid that points the user in the direction of the item."

Currently, if a user is tracking, say, AirTags that are some distance away, Find My will first take the user to Apple Maps. Then as the user gets much closer, then if the iPhone has a U1 chip, it will switch from Maps to a graphic showing an arrow pointing to the device.

From the patent's description, Apple wants that same system to continue, but with a change to what users see toward the end of the process.

"The display may overlay the visual aid onto live images of the user's surroundings as they are captured by a camera," it continues. "If desired, the control circuitry may wait until the electronic device is within a predetermined range of the object before turning on the camera."

Once the camera is turned on by the app, Find My will show the view from that camera and then overlay it with annotations. Apple's patent doesn't particularly specify what those annotations could be, but does say that they can help represent the distance to the lost object.

As a user gets closer to their lost item, Find My can change from simple arrors to a much more specific live view of where the item is
As a user gets closer to their lost item, Find My can change from simple arrors to a much more specific live view of where the item is

"The control circuitry may change the size or other characteristic of the visual aid as the distance between the electronic device and the object changes," it says. "The control circuitry may change the location of the visual aid on the display as the orientation of the electronic device relative to the object changes."

So when the object is at the limit of the point where the camera switches on, it could be indicated by a large sign and arrow. Then as the user nears the device, that could reduce so Find My is displaying finer detail of exactly where the missing item is.

This patent is credited to six inventors. All of them have previous related work on the same patent regarding location systems for what's referred to as electronic device interactions with environment.

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