Apple opened up its proprietary 30-pin dock connector to third-party developers back in 2008, with iOS 3.0 APIs enabling hardware accessories to communicate with your iPhone, iPod touch or iPad via dedicated apps. The way it works today, plugging in your accessory puts up a prompt telling you to automatically download an appropriate app. This is supported only by some accessories so in most cases users are required to navigate their way around the App Store and find that app themselves. But Apple’s penchant for providing simple and seamless solutions once again becomes evident in a new patent application filed in June 2010 with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office.

Entitled “Method and System for Locating an Accessory and an Application for Use With a User Device”, it describes a plug-and-play system where plugging in your accessory automatically produces a list of multiple compatible apps that go with it – not just that one companion app from your accessory’s vendor. Additionally, the invention would work the other way around to allow easy discovery of hardware accessories compatible with the apps you actually have installed on  your device by utilizing an in-store kiosk, pictured in the above patent drawing.

Speculating further, the proposed solution would pave the way for a new (and lucrative) market where accessories play nice with apps.

Theoretically speaking, such a system might let hardware accessories (say, the health and fitness band from Jawbone or ThinkGeek’s Iris 9000 Siri companion) to work with apps from other developers: Users would be simply given a list of compatible apps to choose from. This would work towards popularizing accessories supported by app developers: The more third-party apps work with an accessory, the more likely users would be to purchase it. Interestingly, Apple presented a new chip on Monday that will enable certified iOS accessories to utilize the new Bluetooth 4.0 networking chip found inside the iPhone 4S and 2011 Mac mini and MacBook Air (and coming to a next-gen Apple TV). The proposed invention – credited to engineers Lawrence G. Bolton, Peter T. Langenfeld and Shyam S. Toprani – would also work the other way around by informing you about the accessories compatible with the apps already installed on your device. This would require an in-store kiosk, pictured in the above patent drawing, that would pair with your device and match your apps against a database of compatible hardware accessories sold in that particular store. Cool or what? To retrieve more information about this interesting patent filing, type in an ID number 20110303741 into the USPTO search engine here.

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