Apple has won a patent for built-in mapping applications running on its mobile operating system.
Referred to as "Touch screen device, method, and graphical user interface for providing maps, directions, and location-based information," the patent, which was awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, describes -- as one might expect from the title -- the way in which maps, directions, and location-based information are displayed on a touch-screen-equipped device.
The focus of Apple's patent appears to be improving the experience of actually using a mapping application. Apple's patent describes issues with user interfaces employed by GPS devices, saying that they "include physical push buttons [that] are also inflexible."
"Mapping applications are available for mobile phones (e.g., Google maps for mobile, available at www.google.com/gmm). But navigating in such applications using physical push buttons (e.g., the number keys on a hard keyboard) or touch screens in existing mobile phones is cumbersome for most users," Apple wrote in its patent. "Thus, at present, relatively few people use mapping applications in mobile phones and other portable devices."
Apple filed its patent in 2008 when companies like Garmin and TomTom were still selling boatloads of portable GPS devices that largely required physical buttons to work.
As Apple continues to describe its patent, the company discusses how its interface design, relying mainly on touch screens and a user's fingers, makes navigation more intuitive.
What's perhaps most interesting, though, is that Apple won the patent despite using Google's mapping services in its built-in application for the last several years. Only this year did Apple switch to its own built-in mapping offering, called Maps.
That changeover has caught the ire of many users who have witnessed Maps' many errors and omissions. Apple has promised improvements, but so far, the application, by most accounts, pales in comparison to Google Maps.
Apple's Maps patent is the latest in a string of intellectual property the company has scored in the last several weeks. Just last week, in fact,.