Today the USPTO published an Apple patent application (spotted by UnwiredView) that ventures a little farther afield than most, and describes a mobile banking concept that is truly innovative, which could essentially turn iTunes into a micro-lending bank. The patent outlines a system whereby a user would post requests for small amounts of cash using their iPhone, which other nearby users could respond to to provide some quick funds when there’s no ATM nearby.
The lending party would be paid the full amount from an account (which, while not named specifically, could easily be an iTunes account), which would first deduct that total, plus a small service fee, from the iTunes account of the person making the cash request. So, in a real world example, I could open this “Cash Transfer Application,” type that I need $20 and that I’m at the Starbucks at 4th and Main, enter a search range and send it out. Then, anyone within that radius also using the app would get the request, and be able to volunteer to walk over to my location and provide me with the amount requested on the spot.
Unlike a lot of Apple patents, which simply describe refinements or extensions of existing tech already in use by the company, this method for so-called ad-hoc cash dispensing is a remarkably novel invention. And it could work, too; Apple describes that in one embodiment, the service fee could be split between the person on the ground supplying the cash and iTunes itself, which would provide an incentive to participate. And while it’s true that it’s rare in many places to find a store that doesn’t accept either debit or credit, or isn’t in close proximity to an ATM, there are still plenty of times this could come in handy, and if the service fee is reasonable, it could actually be more convenient than finding and using an ATM anyway, especially when on vacation.
The patent was originally filed in July, 2011 and published by the USPTO today. It’s a pretty bold concept, and one that would push iTunes into a role akin to a bank that many analysts have been suspecting it could move into with mobile payments anyways. But Apple also appears to be leaving the door open to work with other partners on this system, since they never really pin down the source of the funds from the pay out “account” described in the patent itself. Either way, this could be an interesting and unique way of approaching the growing opportunity for mobile device-based commerce and banking.