Apple's "force fed ads" patent more likely related to content, not hardware

Interesting news that Apple is pursuing a patent application for "forced advertising" - but does this move heralding free devices, or free content?

Interesting news that Apple is pursuing a patent application for "forced advertising" - but does this move heralding free devices, or free content?

The New York Times gives us the lowdown on how it'll work:

The technology can freeze the device until the user clicks a button or answers a test question to demonstrate that he or she has dutifully noticed the commercial message.

My ZDNet colleague Jason O'Grady believes that this move could see Apple introducing a line of ad-supported, or possibly even free, iPhones:

However, someone who doesn’t want to plunk down $100-$300 may be interested in an ad-subsidized iPhone if it brings the initial price down. Heck, Apple could even subsidize the monthly fee, although that’s less likely because most of it goes to the carrier, in this case AT&T.

The piece in the New York Times also mentions that this technology could also be headed to iPods.

It's interesting, but I find it hard to believe that this has anything to do with Apple giving away free of deeply discounted hardware. That's just not Apple's style. I think that this is about content. Apple locking up a process with a patent is a long way removed from Apple ever leveraging the technology in that way.

Think about it. Compared to the price of the hardware, content is pennies, and it's easy to see a mechanism that allows owners to collect "content credits" in exchange for watching or listening to a few ads. Endure a few ads, acknowledge that you've done so with a quick test or whatever (more likely a form of CAPCHA to put people off gaming the system) and you collect a credit. A certain number of credits buys you a song, a higher level allows you to rent a movie, and more credits would allow you to buy a movie. You'd have to watch a heck of a lot of ads to make up for a $100 reduction in the price of a device.

This mechanism could also be applied to apps, where a certain number of credits could be purchase a particular app. It could also be a way for those providing free apps to make a little money. After all, there are lots of free apps, and some would say that the App Store relies on the generosity of developers to make the iPhone platform as good as it is. Why should developers get nothing back? This could be a way for some developers to monetize their apps.

I agree with O'Grady that I'm uneasy about any mechanism that forces people to watch ads, which is why I don't see this being related to a specific version or line of hardware, instead I see it as better used in an opt-in way.

Thoughts?