Apple Store To Go Virtual?

Apple Store To Go Virtual? That’s the theory of MacNN, at least, citing an Apple patent application published on the US government site last Thursday, somewhat obscurely entitled “Enhancing Online Shopping Atmosphere”. [digg=http://digg.com/apple/Apple_Store_to_go_Virtual]

The patent application’s stated goal is to create an online shopping experience that doesn’t feel “sterile and isolating” like a traditional retail website, and includes a diagram depicting stick figures walking around in a retail store with an Electronics, Books, and Music section, underneath a sun– i.e., MacNN speculates, in a virtual world like Second Life. “[V]isitors are represented by avatars selected by those visitors,” the application notes, “rather than a more generic or uniform icon.”

So does this mean Steve Jobs is going to show off his avatar in a virtual Apple store at the next big Mac show? Possibly, but even with my pronounced Second Life bias, I’m more than a touch skeptical. Companies file all kinds of patents that go unused, as a way of preemptively staking out territory.

What’s more, while the patent office published the application last week, it was actually filed in September 2006– at the height of Second Life over-hype, months after a May ’06 BusinessWeek cover story convinced a crush of big companies that they had to set up a marketing presence in SL like yesterday. (A wave that’s since ebbed to much more sensibly modest proportions.)

Still, when a Second Life user built an unofficial Apple Store last year, it generated tremendous buzz (as the 270K views of this YouTube video suggest.) MacNN notes that, Apple has experimented with virtual world-like sites before with eWorld. So for now, I’m filing this rumor under Definite Maybe.

Hat tip: SL blogger Tinsel Silvera.

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