Is Apple planning an e-card service? Seems so from this Patent application

A newly published Apple Patent application entitled eCards from multiple users appears to describe technology that may point to Apple offering e-cards where multiple users could digitally sign the card.The Patent application specifically refers to an "ecard website" where this could be done- and most interestingly, also refers to gift such as a music player that could be given to a recipient, with multiple signers to the ecard accompanies this gift.

appleecardabstract.jpg

A newly published Apple Patent application entitled eCards from multiple users appears to describe technology that may point to Apple offering e-cards where multiple users could digitally sign the card.

The Patent application specifically refers to an "ecard website" where this could be done- and most interestingly, also refers to gift such as a music player that could be given to a recipient, with multiple signers to the ecard accompanies this gift.

Given that Apple has taken time to research, write and file this Patent application, it could mean that Apple is strongly considering either building its own ecard site or buying an established one.

A brief read of the Abstract gives us the fundamentals:

Techniques described herein allow multiple users to sign the same ecard. For example, a first user signs onto an ecard website, and selects an ecard template. After personalizing the ecard, the first user selects an option to invite other users to sign the card. Invitation messages are sent to the invited users.

If an invited user accepts the invitation to sign the ecard, the invited user is prompted to login to the ecard website and sign the ecard. Once all the invited users have responded to the invitation, the first user is notified that the ecard is ready to be sent. Before sending the ecard, the first user may preview and modify the ecard. Once the first user is content with the ecard, the first user submits the ecard to the ecard web server to be sent to the intended recipient.

So how is this to work? Follow along with me as I show you Figure 2 from this Patent application, and then provide the explanatory text relevant to the drawings.

appleecardfig2.jpg

Turning to FIG. 2, it is a flowchart illustrating a procedure 200 for sending an ecard signed by multiple users to a recipient.

At step 210, an ecard selector accesses an ecard website and browses the available ecard templates until they find one they like. In one embodiment, accessing the website includes registering with the website by creating a personal account with the ecard website. The ecard selector registers by submitting information such as their name, email address, and a password. Other information may also be collected.

Once on the ecard website, the ecard selector selects the template ecard and adds personalized touches to the ecard for the intended recipient. In one embodiment, the personalized touches may include adding multimedia content, such as photos, music, or video clips, to the ecard.

For example, Jill, a friend of Jack, has an upcoming birthday. Jack wants to wish Jill a happy birthday. Consequently, he accesses an ecard website, browses the site until he find a birthday card he thinks Jill will like, and then adds some personal touches to the ecard. In this example, Jack knows that Jill likes flowers, so, in the ecard, Jack adds some animated flowers that sing a happy birthday song.

At step 220, the ecard selector may write an additional message for the intended recipient. In one embodiment, this message is separate from the ecard template. The message may be a simple text message or it may include multimedia content.

For example, after designing the card, Jack decides to write a short message to Jill wishing her a good day. In addition to the written text, he includes a brief audio clip of his own voice singing a happy birthday song.

Once, the ecard and message have been completed, in one embodiment, the ecard selector, at step 230, may elect to invite other users to sign the ecard. FIG. 1A illustrates an example user interface that provides an option to invite multiple users to sign the ecard before sending it to an intended recipient. In one embodiment, the ecard selector manually inputs the email address for each invited user into a multiple user field, such as group users box 144 in FIG. 1B.

Alternatively, the ecard selector may import a list of names from an email account or access a previously saved list of names and email addresses. In one embodiment, the ecard selector may use a combination of these techniques to select the users to be invited to sign the ecard.

For instance, suppose Jack had never used the ecard website before. Consequently, he manually inputs each name and email address of each of the people he wants to invite to sign the ecard. In one embodiment, once he has entered all the information, he can save the list of email addresses for future use. Alternatively, he imports a list of email addresses from an email account.

When all the names and email addresses for the invited users have been entered, in one embodiment, the ecard selector may write a message to those users. For example, the ecard selector may ask for comments or suggestions on how to make the card better, the ecard selector may explain the reasons for the card, ask for contributions for a group gift, etc.

In one embodiment, the ecard website provides links to online stores and other retail businesses that allow the ecard selector to link to gifts or gift ideas for the intended recipient. A link to the gift or gift idea may be included (either manually or automatically by the webserver) as a portion of the message to the invited users.

For example, the ecard website accessed by Jack provides links to a number of online stores that allow users to purchase online gift certificates. Jack decides to purchase an online gift certificate for Jill, and includes as part of his message to the invited users a link so the invited users, too, can contribute to the gift certificate.

Alternatively, Jack may decide he wants to buy Jill an MP3 player. Accordingly, he accesses an online store and includes the link to the MP3 player so the invited users can see the gift and determine if they would like to contribute to the gift or not.

Again at step 230, in one embodiment, the ecard selector may set other features, such as access privileges. For example, Jack may be worried that somebody may modify the ecard's format. To prevent such modification, Jack may deny the invited users rights to modify the actual design/template of the ecard.

Alternatively, assume Jack has a graphics design guru for a friend. In such a case, he may want to grant access to the design guru friend to spiff up the ecard. Thus, the ecard selector can control, to an extent, the design and of the ecard, while still allowing other users to provide materials to enhance the ecard.

After the ecard selector creates the list of invited users, at step 240, an invitation message is sent to the list of invited users. In one embodiment, the invitation message is an email message or other form of electronic communication, such as an instant message, text message, etc., that contains a link to the ecard on the ecard provider's website.

When an invited user receives the message, they can follow the link (e.g., by clicking on a hyperlink in the message or inputting the website information in a browser). In one embodiment, the invited users are asked to login before they can access the ecard. Doing so provides some level of security and avoids outside tampering with the card.

In addition, the login may require a user to register with the ecard website. Alternatively, a random login is generated by the ecard website when it sends out the invitation message, or the ecard website may simply use a guest or invited user account to reduce inconvenience to users.

In one embodiment, the invitation message contains a copy of the ecard.

Once the invited users have access to the ecard, at step 250, the invited users may write their own personalized messages to the intended recipient and perform any other tasks permitted by the ecard service.

For example, upon accessing the ecard website, the invited users may be presented with a user interface such as the interface illustrated in FIG. 1C.

The invited user adds information, such as their name, email, and other comments to the ecard. In one embodiment, some of the invited user's information may include a message for the ecard selector. The invited user then submits the message so it is saved on the ecard website's server.

At step 260, a notification message is sent to the ecard selector when each invited user submits their personalized messages and comments.

Alternatively, a tally is maintained by the ecard website and once all users have responded a notification message is sent to the ecard selector.

In one embodiment, the invitation message sent to the invited users includes a prompt to accept or decline the offer to sign the ecard. This allows each invited user to easily opt in or out of signing the card.

Once all the invited users who elected to sign have responded, an electronic message is sent to ecard selector.

In one embodiment, a timeout feature may be manually set (or set by default) so that after a certain amount of time has passed, the invitation to sign the ecard expires and that invited user is dropped from the tally. A

lternatively, a reminder email may be sent to any uninvited users who have yet to respond.

Or, a reminder email sent to the ecard selector, so they can follow-up with invited user.

After the ecard selector receives notification that all the invited users have responded, the ecard selector accesses the ecard website again and prepares to send the ecard.

In one embodiment, the ecard selector may review, edit, or delete personal messages sent by invited users, review comments directed to the ecard selector, further edit the ecard template, etc.

Once the ecard selector is satisfied that the card is ready to be sent, at step, 270, the ecard selector submits the completed ecard to the ecard web server, which in turn sends an ecard message to the intended recipient. In one embodiment, the last invited user to sign the ecard may be prompted to send the ecard.

Returning to the story of Jack and Jill. Once Jack receives a notification email that everybody he invited has signed the card, he logs back onto the ecard website, reviews all the comments and messages made by other users, edits them, perhaps he adds another photo to the ecard that was uploaded by one of the invited users, and then he sends the ecard to Jill.

Jill upon receipt of the ecard is pleased to have been remembered on her birthday by so many of her friends.

OK, so why is Apple doing this? Could this be a precursor to a branded Apple service, or even a component in an Apple-branded social networking initiative?

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