Preview at WWDC likely in June, followed by September launch.
Apple Researching How the iPhone Can Help You Make New Friends
Based on a new patent application published today, it seems Apple has been exploring far more ambitious attempts using the iPhone, location-based services and interest matching. The result is the possibility that your iPhone could find you your next friend, business partner or date. Apple sets up the scenario in the patent filing:
Social networks are a well known phenomenon, and various electronic systems to support social networking are known. Growing a social network can mean that a person needs to discover like-minded or compatible people who have similar interests or experiences to him or her. Identifying like-minded people, however, often requires a substantial amount of and time and effort because identifying new persons with common interests for friendships is difficult. For example, when two strangers meet, it may take a long and awkward conversation to discover their common interests or experiences.So, instead of "awkward conversation", Apple proposes that individuals' interests can be determined manually by questionnaires (interests, books, etc...) but also automatically by mining various data found in their iPhone device. You will be able to find others in your immediate vicinity that might match your interests and introduce yourself to them through your iPhone.
Common interests and experiences of two or more users located close to each other can be identified from content, including automatically created usage data of the mobile devices. Usage data of a mobile device can be created based on activities performed on the mobile device (e.g., songs downloaded), a trajectory of the mobile device (e.g., places traveled), or other public data available from the mobile device (e.g., pictures shared).Of course, all this would be opt-in only to avoid any privacy concerns. For example. GPS tracking could identify people who have traveled to the same locations. Phone numbers and contacts can be compared, as well as common bookmarks or games played on device. Overall the application is a fascinating read. They even suggest that facial recognition features could be used to identify common contacts.
Now, patent applications tend to be overambitious descriptions of what could be, and Apple is known to dabble in various areas that they don't necessarily plan on pursuing. That said, location-services and social network are rapidly growing markets, so it wouldn't be surprising for Apple to make some efforts in those areas. In fact, we've already seen references to a "Find My Friends" features in developer builds of iOS.