On the left we have an existing iPhone app called Where To, on the right we have an illustration found within a patent application filed by Apple. Is this some sort of cruel joke or just an innocent misunderstanding? Updated.
The Where To app has been available since the day the Apple App Store launched while the patent application in which the illustration above was discovered was filed by Apple in December 2009. It'd be a pretty big coincidence for the two images to just happen to be so similar, but even intentional similarities do not have to mean that Apple was doing something shady.
Dan Wineman of Venomous Porridge speculated how the situation could be innocent:
The diagram is just part of an example of one way the technology in question might operate.
I think it's more likely that the people involved in drawing up this patent simply didn't think about the message it would send to developers. I'm sure it's not Apple's practice (or intention) to plunder the App Store submissions bin for new things to patent.
Basically the patent illustration could actually be a nice compliment from Apple—a message saying that Where To demonstrates a real world application of the technology Apple is patenting nicely. Odd compliment or not though, somehow the whole thing is a bit awkward and just like GigaOm's Om Malik, I'd love to hear some patent lawyers chime in on the whole situation.[Venomous Porridge via GigaOm]
Updated: As TechCrunch points out, this isn't the first or only odd similarity between an existing app and an illustration in an Apple patent application:
Curiouser and curiouser. Still no explanation of the situation from an official source though.