iTunes users may one day be able to send apps, music, videos, and books as gifts to other people -- at least, that's what Apple envisioned in a recently published patent filing.
In one method, you'd select a specific item from the iTunes Store, such as a song, movie, or book. Your own account is charged the cost of the content, while your recipient receives a notice to download the gifted file.
In another method, you'd select an item to gift from your own iTunes library. Again, you get charged the cost of the content via your own account. Your recipient then receives a notice to download that same item directly from iTunes.
The patent filing also describes a method for gifting content without having to be online. In such a scenario, you'd send a locked version of the item from your library to your recipient's mobile device via near-field communications. Since NFC is involved, you'd both presumably need to be together for the transaction to occur. Once both of you are online again, your recipient's device talks to Apple's servers to unlock the item, while your account gets charged.
As the patent application explains it:
An offer and acceptance of a selected gift file is accomplished between a gifter device and a receiving giftee device using a near-field communication (NFC) connection. If a connection to the online provider is available, the gifter device may transmit a gift request by which the gifter's account is charged for the gift file. Thereafter, a gift file created using DRM keys associated with the giftee's account may be downloaded to the giftee device. If a network connection is unavailable, the giftee device may transfer a locked gift file and a corresponding gift license to the giftee device using a peer-to-peer connection. The giftee device may authenticate the license and unlock the gift file once a connection to the online provider is available.
iTunes gift cards have already proven to be a popular present. The invention outlined by Apple takes that concept further by letting you tap into your own iTunes library for gift ideas.
Unlike some other mobile devices, the iPhone and iPad don't come with NFC. Rumors have swirled in the past about Apple outfitting its devices with the necessary hardware. But none of the recent reports around the next-generation iPhone and iPad mention NFC.
Still, several of Apple's patent filings describe inventions that would rely on NFC. So, it's likely only a matter of time before we see Apple finally adopt the technology.