Apple could be about to venture in to a new and innovative online presence, possibly on virtual world Second Life. Speculation over the move has come about after the iPod, Mac and iPhone maker has filed a patent at the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office called Enhancing Online Shopping Atmosphere.
MacNN first noticed the application, which although filed in September 2006, wasn’t made public until the end of last week.
Apple obviously already has a high profile online presence with the Apple Online Store, but the nature of this patent seems to signal the company are looking to improve the experience for customers shopping online for Apple products.
This isn’t just a sprucing up of the already existing online store though, as the wording in the patent application seems to suggest a more revolutionary approach, and which could see Apple taking up residence in Second Life.
(O)ne drawback of online shopping is that the experience can feel sterile and isolating. Customers in such an environment may be less likely to have positive feelings about the online shopping experience, may be less inclined to engage in the online equivalent of window shopping (e.g., will not linger in front of a display), and may ultimately spend less money than their counterparts who shop in physical stores.
This seems to point toward an attempt by Apple to make the online shopping experience less sterile, and more intuitive, fun, and interactive. One way to achieve that would certainly be to enter Second Life, where stores are populated by avatars, making it more like shopping in a physical store.
Certainly Apple wouldn’t be the first high profile company to enter Second Life, and try to use the virtual world as another place to sell its products. IBM and Nike are two global brands which are now dominant in Second Life.
The fact that this patent application dates from 2006 would lead me to believe Apple was merely hedging its bets and looking in to the possibility of making the move at a time when Second Life, and the role it could play in future retail ventures, was making the news.
So, not a done deal by any means, but don’t be surprised if Apple turn up on a Second Life street corner near you very soon.