Apple's current Find My Friends feature could one day expand into more of a Track My Friends feature.
Granted to Apple on Tuesday by the US Patent and Trademark Office, a patent called "Sharing location information among devices" describes a process that would let you view a visual representation of the path taken by another person using a mobile device as a way of following that person's entire journey.
For example, someone is going for a hike or a trip and wants you to stay informed of his or her whereabouts. That person would enable a feature on a mobile device to allow you to see and track in real time the path being taken on your own mobile device or computer. On the flip side, you could also share your route so the two of you can stay abreast of each other's ongoing location.
Apple already offers a feature called Find My Friends, which lets you find the specific location of another person via his or her iPhone or iPad. But Find My Friends is geared more toward pointing you to a specific spot, whereas Apple's patented invention allows for path tracking, or following several points along a specific route.
As described in the patent, your respective devices could also share mapping directions so that you and your friend would be able to easily find each other via your mobile devices. Even further, your devices could tap into a "mirroring" mode that would replicate the view seen on each other's respective devices.
The system would rely on GPS for navigation purposes but could enable communication between the devices via a cellular network, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Assuming both you and your friend had a sufficient signal, cellular would obviously be the most efficient technology as it would allow for the greatest distance between the two of you.
Concerns over privacy and security always arise in any technology such as the one described here. But as Apple points out, the feature would need to be enabled by the person being tracked, so you wouldn't be able to track people without their permission.
In the patent, Apple said the devices could be carried by a human being, animal or robot. A small enough device placed on a pet could help you keep track of your dog. And a device installed on a robot conjures up a type of telepresence in which someone could follow and view the path of a robotic device, perhaps one being sent into hazardous conditions.
As usual, even a patented invention doesn't necessarily mean we'll ever see this capability in the real world. But since Apple already offers a Find My Friends feature, a tracking concept doesn't seem particularly farfetched.