A Patent Nightmares are Made Of: OS X With Ads

Halloween has come early this year, and I’m not talking about today’s release of Windows 7. Engadget reports (and I find it difficult to share this with you, dear readers, because I know it will cause you discomfort), in April last year, Apple filed a patent application for (shudder) an ad-supported operating system. That’s right. Mac OS X festooned with ads.

The abstract of the patent reads as follows:

Among other disclosures, an operating system presents one or more advertisements to a user and disables one or more functions while the advertisement is being presented. At the end of the advertisement, the operating system again enables the function(s). The advertisement can be visual or audible. The presentation of the advertisement(s) can be made as part of an approach where the user obtains a good or service, such as the operating system, for free or at reduced cost.

Oh Steve, say it ain’t so. Tell us Patent Application 20090265214 is the result of too many late nights in “creative meetings” with your minions at Cupertino. Tell us it’s a misguided concept you’ve since abandoned (and wish had never made it through the red tape, to be filed with the USPTO). To hell with it, you can even tell us you’re just patent trolling, and that’ll still be preferable to the unthinkable, horrifying possibility that you actually took this idea seriously.

What on earth would motivate Apple to consider something like this? It can’t be the competition. The upcoming Chrome OS from Google may well be ad-supported in some manner, but we have to hope it’ll be implemented the same way Google currently injects ads into Gmail. Perhaps Apple explored the possibility of an ad-supported OS as a means for offering cheaper Macs? But the cost of a Macintosh computer is tied closely to its hardware and besides, since when did Apple start searching for ways to deliver cut-price computers? This isn’t Dell we’re talking about.

Here’s an extract from the (typically lengthy) patent description:

The operating system is configured to present one or more of the advertisements to users of the computer device. In some implementations, the operating system can disable one or more functions during the presentation of the advertisements and then enable the function(s) in response to the advertisements ending. That is, the operating system can disable some aspect of its operation to prompt the operator to pay attention to the advertisement.

This paints a picture of some twisted low-level hijacking of the OS while ads are played. For example, imagine your pointer suddenly stops responding to mouse movements (or disappears altogether) only to be restored after a commercial or two (for products you don’t want, or simply can’t afford) finish assaulting your senses with bright colors and boisterous music. What makes this worse is that you hit the mute key ages ago, but the OS temporarily turned the sound on again. You know, because you can’t enjoy all the subtly exquisite levels of torment an ad has to offer unless you get the full audio/video experience.

Yep, that’s a cold sweat that just broke out on your brow. Sadly, there’s more of this horror. The patent also describes an OS-provided framework of which third-party applications can take advantage to deliver the same ad-driven pain:

The software platform provides a framework upon which one or more application programs (e.g., programs, services, user interfaces) may be executed. For example, the operating system can disable input to, or output from, one or more of the application programs while the advertisement is being presented.

So imagine, if you can bear to, an ad-supported version of iWorks. You’re writing that essay or juggling multiple documents to prepare that report that was due yesterday. You’re lost in a world of footnotes and references, utterly absorbed in your task when suddenly, boom! — every Pages window freezes. There’s not a blinking carat to be seen anywhere. Then a horrible ad for life insurance starts playing — you know, that one you hate so much that, when it plays on TV, it sends you diving for the remote in a mad dash to hit the mute button. But you’ve already learned that mute won’t help you now.

It plays for 30 skin-crawling seconds. You’re desperately trying to stay focused on your suspended workflow, grinding your teeth as you endure this torment. But then — the horror! — it’s followed by another ad, this time for Microsoft Office!

30 more seconds (and severely worn tooth enamel) later, you’re settling back into your document… then boom! It’s time for the OS to hang, because Burger King wants to tell you about its new Windows 7 Whopper

OK. Dry those tears. Have a stiff drink. This isn’t real. I mean, it might have been prototyped (gods forbid) but just because there’s a patent for this ghoulish monster, that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.

Not yet, anyway…

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