Apple's Patent App For Updating A Mobile Device Without Breaking The Shrinkwrap

Say what you will about Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), its people are impressively creative about envisioning unexpected ways to use existing technology. A patent application that Apple filed this month—about ways to customize mobile content before giving it to someone as a shrink-wrapped gift—is an ideal example. The idea is to be able to add (and by "add," we mean "pay extra money for") apps, movies, songs, games, credits to play higher levels of those games, e-books, online media subscriptions to the gift device. The magic is being able to do this while keeping the device in pristine, shrink-wrapped new condition, all ready for gifting.

The idea is akin to giving young newlyweds a refrigerator/freezer that is already stocked with expensive food. Apple spent a lot of time dreaming up a laundry list of ways that this could be accomplished, from having a direct connection in a corner with a small opening to wirelessly downloading the content to fully using the cloud to put the content elsewhere and allow it to be all downloaded when the device is activated.

But with so much content becoming digital, the idea has huge potential for other elements of retail. Would Amazon's (NASDAQ:AMZN) Kindle be a better gift if it already included the 15 books the recipient wants? What if the recipient is a college student and a thoughtful parent has customized a Barnes & Noble (NYSE:BKS) Nook by having identified, purchased and downloaded all of the electronic textbooks that will be needed for this semester? (Well, as many as exist electronically.) The snazzy part is that this customization can happen while still delivering the gift in seemingly untouched new condition.

Or maybe it's a navigation system that includes five years of pre-purchased map updates? For much of this, there don't even need to be any creative ways of connecting to the device physically. If the device can merely be activated enough for the device to send out a wireless identification signal, the rest of the magic can happen in the cloud.

The Apple patent application discusses several ways this could happen. It might be through light: "The controller may be a light source and the sensor may be a light sensor. In this embodiment, the controller may be activated and direct a light, such as an ultra-violet light, an incandescent light, a light emitting diode, or the like, towards the sensor through the package. The sensor, which may be an optical sensor, or other light sensing component, may then sense the light source and activate the electronic device by sending a signal to the processor or activating a power source of the electronic device."

The application also theorized about wirelessly and magnetically activating the unit: "The device may be turned on physically by using a controller, such as a magnetic controller, that may displace the power switch from a first position to a second position. In another example, the controller may include a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag that may be used to activate the device. In another example, the device may include a sensor and may activate itself when a particular motion, sound, light, or image is sensed. The device may also be activated by inducing a current in the device through a magnetic coil or the like. Once the device is activated, the user may select content to be downloaded or associated with the device."

This application may never be granted, but that's irrelevant. The idea of pushing content purchases as part of the physical shrink-wrapped gift is a good one. And if Apple doesn't it, there are plenty of chains that really should.

For more:
- Read the Patently Apple story
- Review the Apple patent application

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