Apple’s Multi-Multimedia Patent App Could Have A Huge In-Store Impact

Written by Frank Hayes
August 17th, 2011

Apple has invented a way to let smartphones, tablets and computers share a single desktop by using projectors connected to each of the devices, according to a U.S. patent application that was made public on August 11. If that sounds like a cute conference-room gimmick—OK, it is. But it could also create an in-store opportunity to let customers use their phones for a lot more than scanning barcodes, receiving coupons or mimicking payment cards.

Suppose a customer’s phone contains a shopping list of specific apparel items she wants to buy from another retailer—including images of those items or even links to them on the retailer’s Web site. A shared screen could make it very easy for an associate to suggest alternatives or help the customer mix and match, whether the items are in the store or not.

The idea behind the patent application, “Projected Display Shared Workspaces,” is that each of the devices would be equipped with a projector that could be used to blow up the screen image. The devices (say, a customer’s iPhone and an associate’s iPad) would communicate with each other using Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or some other communication link so they could share data, including their relative positions.

Then the projected screen images would form a combined workspace that would also allow the users to move data or objects between the devices. Cameras in the devices could even detect gestures made by the users to move things around on the combined “screen.” That way, the mismatch in screen size between a phone, a tablet and a larger display can be smoothed out, and customers and associates can have a single large workspace.

It’s clever—but it doesn’t seem especially useful if a retailer can already display all of its inventory on a big screen. Who needs a customer’s phone when a store’s kiosk or an associate’s tablet can show everything that’s available?

But of course, that’s not everything that’s available from the customer’s point of view. There are other stores in the mall, and if she’s already thinking hard about a particular skirt from a different store, a customer may be looking for other items that will go with the skirt. That’s what she’s come into your store for.

Now suppose she has the image of that skirt on her iPhone, and Apple has actually gotten these shared displays working. An associate doesn’t have to know anything about the other retailer’s inventory to make specific suggestions about what could go with the skirt—no guesswork involved. The shared display might even show a virtual mannequin with the other store’s skirt and everything in stock that might match up with it.


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