Apple patent hints at augmented reality features in the iPhone

Apple has been granted a patent (number 9,679,414) for “federated mobile device positioning” that hints at augmented reality (AR) features for upcoming iPhones. It’s for a user interface that lets you calibrate the position of a 3D model with a real-world environment represented by that model. 

Using a device's sensor suite, the device's location and orientation is determined. A video image of the device's environment is displayed on the device's display. The device overlays a representation of an object from a virtual reality model on the video image. The position of the overlaid representation is determined based on the device's location and orientation. In response to user input, the device adjusts a position of the overlaid representation relative to the video image.

In the patent filing, Apple notes that some applications are being developed for mobile devices that allow folks to view an augmented reality or "enhanced reality" view of their real, physical environment. Some mobile devices, such as iPhone and iPads, come equipped with cameras and graphical display screens. 

A camera may be mounted on the side of the device that is opposite of the side on which the device's display is placed. Enhanced reality applications typically capture the contents currently within the view of the camera in real time and present those contents on the display. This means the mobile device's user can hold up the mobile device in front of his field of vision in order to use the device's graphical display as a sort of camera view finder. 

The device's display shows the user everything that the camera can see. However, enhanced reality applications go further than simply presenting a view of the real world to the device's user. Enhanced reality applications seek to register a projected model of the world with live video of the world. Enhanced reality applications are frequently capable of overlaying real-world view with information about the people and objects contained within that view. 

For example, an enhanced reality application might overlay a particular building within a view with the name of the corporation whose office the building houses. For another example an enhanced reality application might overlay a particular street within a view with its name. For yet another example, more sophisticated applications might even seek to present the names of people within a view within virtual text bubbles floating above those people's faces. 

Of course, Apple files for — and is granted — lots of patents by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. Many are for inventions that never see the light of day. However, you never can tell which ones will materialize in a real product.