Apple patent hints at increased functionality (and ads) in its Messages app

Apple has been granted a patent (number 20170163589) for “sharing of activity metadata via messaging systems” that hints at increased functionality of the Messages app on iOS and macOS devices. However, it also adds the potential for ads appearing in the utility.

In the patent filing, Apple notes that mobile devices such as iPhones and iPads are used for numerous types of communications. For example, a mobile device, such as a smartphone, can facilitate voice communication, web-based communications, and short messaging service (SMS) communications. 

Short messaging service communications (e.g., text messaging or instant messaging services) have become a part of life for many mobile device users. As text messaging services have gained popularity, publishers of content and applications alike have been exploring how to leverage text messaging services to their advantage. 

For example, organizations like CNN and ESPN provide subscription services for users, so that users receive news and sports updates in the form of text messages. Such organizations may also append advertisements to such updates. However, the effectiveness of an advertisement campaign involving text messages may be limited, as users typically ignore such advertisements and targeting of users is typically limited. 

Apple says that another issue with existing advertising schemes via text messaging services is a misunderstanding of the content discovery process associated with users. In many cases, users searching for content of interest (e.g., news, music, movies, applications, etc.) typically look to family, friends, or colleagues for recommendations regarding content. Apple says there's a need for facilitating the discovery of content discovery among family, friends, colleagues, or other persons in close or trusted relationships. 

Here’s Apple’s summary of the patent: “Systems and methods are provided for sharing activity information of devices engaged in a messaging session. In operation, the devices provide activity and sharing preference information to a data service. Thereafter, the data service generates notifications for the devices based on the activity, sharing preference, and device information, wherein the notifications include a payload with instructions for messaging clients at the devices to present user interface elements that allow users to access content and applications associated with other users in the messaging session.”

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.