Is Apple considering building its own location-based social network the likes of Foursquare and Gowalla? A lot has been written about its recent filing of a patent application for a social networking application called iGroups. The question is - Are they too late to the party - Or based on their new operating system, do they have the best fighting chance of becoming the dominant player in the location-service space?
It appears with the summer release of their new OS 4 for the iPhone, coupled with their recent acquisition of the advertising agency Quattro Wireless, Apple is laying the groundwork to jump into the LBS 'Wild West' with all guns blazing.
Not only will iPhones new OS offer quicker and better Internet connectivity, their new ad platform will allow Apple to take advantage of advertising that can be tied to their iGroups location-based social network. It delivers a next-generation framework for easily and quickly launching web sites that can pull content directly from a publishers web source and then integrate it with a network of advertisers.
Similar to the other LBSs, the basic premise is contingent on users in close proximity communicating with one another via iPhones using a smartphones' built-in GPS and cameras. This coupled with the users' address 50s party linebook and you'll be able to utilize a service like iGroups when attending an event, such as a football game, a wedding or a trade-show. Since groups in the physical world often separate from one another at large gatherings, iGroup could be come the 'go-to-channel' to corral you all back in, similar to what the old telephone 'party lines' of the 1950s use to do.
And if its a party-line where no one knows anybody, LBSs offer users the opportunity to meet new people on the fly, based on geolocation. That is, if you're adventuresome and open to letting your guard down a little. As we are beginning to learn, privacy is not as scary as many of us originally thought. When handled properly, it can be a powerful enabler in the case of new services. As we move forward with LBSs, the rules of privacy will definitely change accordingly. What we hold private today will be dismissed as 'overly cautious' in the years to come, as this technology takes hold.
One novel use of iGroups, if and when Apple launches it, could be put into use by our own government. According to a Linux Report, its rumored that "the Supreme Court justices are considering using some kind of tool like this during future State of the Union addresses in the event they need to collaborate on an impromptu response to the President." How iGroups would be any different or less impolite then having the justices tweeting during the proceedings was not discussed in the report.
With all this said, it is still unclear if Apple's entry into the location-based service space will create enough buzz to redirect users that have attached themselves to other services. However having a single provider like Apple that can offer you hardware, software and even a built-in address book could definitely give them a leg up over the competition. Or perhaps Apple is in the market to meld a service like Foursquare into its iGroup fold. If Apple doesn't seize that opportunity, Twitter Facebook or Google might be in the 'right location' at the right time, to do it themselves.
Update: Immediately after this posting, I was told Yahoo was offering $1 million to buy Foursquare. Apple, you need to be a little bit quicker on the uptick!