A new US patent filing suggests that Apple is exploring ideas on improving their Maps application for future versions of iOS. Augmented reality has made an appearance in other iPhone apps, but so far has not yet been used in Apple's integrated apps. In Apple's patent filing, the user would be able to see their local area through their camera and find nearby points of interest.
The advantage to this system, Apple says, is that it builds on the strengths of an augmented reality app with directions support. "If a user desires to visit one of the museums, the user must switch applications, or at a minimum, switch out of an augmented reality view to learn directions to the museum," the patent reads. Apple claims that switching between separate apps for finding a place presents a whole new series of problems, such as the assumption that the user knows which way north is, or that local signs are clear and decipherable.
How long it will take before we can see such a system in action remains unclear, but the patent was filed December 2010, more recent than other Apple patents that have been made public. The fact that the patent was filed relatively recently is a strong indicator that Apple is still considering the idea, but previous patents have taken much longer before they have shown themselves in a commercially available product. For example, the touch-sensitive Magic Mouse was patented in June 2008, but wasn't released until October 2009.