updated 02:50 pm EST, Tue February 9, 2010
Visitors represented as icons in various areas
Apple has been granted a new patent, No. 7,660,749, that describes a system for "representing visitor activity in an online store." The background information suggests that online shopping offers a number of advantages over visiting brick-and-mortar locations, however the experience "can feel sterile and isolating" and lead to lower sales numbers.
The patent claims cover a wide range of potential solutions to the isolation, with several methods for representing user activity across different areas of the online store. As a visitor navigates to the main page, virtual icons would represent where other customers are clustered throughout the store. Up to ten visitors might be displayed as one virtual person, while twenty customers could be shown as two people.
After selecting on an individual product, users could view statistics such as foot traffic on the particular page, the number of other people looking at the same product, or how many customers have already added the item to their cart. Salespeople, customer service representatives, and experts are highlighted with special designations. Like many current stores, the interface could also show the product features and comments submitted by other users.
A 3D store is also included in the list of potential embodiments and artwork. The patent authors describe a system for adjusting sunlight or moonlight to match outdoor conditions, while different color schemes could indicate seasonal changes.
Apple has yet to announce plans to enhance its online store with any of the features covered in the recent patent.