SAN FRANCISCO — Apple often patents interesting hardware or futuristic iPhone designs that may never see the light of day. But in its latest patent granted on Tuesday, Apple describes something a little less innovative, and already wildly popular.
Cartoon avatars might be Apple’s next big thing.
The design and editing process in the “Avatar editing environment” patent look similar to Bitmoji, the personalized mobile stickers customized to look just like you.
Bitmoji are crazy popular (or extremely annoying, depending on who you ask), so it makes sense for Apple to make its own unique characters for iMessage users.
Last year, Apple debuted major changes to iMessage, bringing stickers and animations to the app. It seemed to be a response to the popularity of more playful messaging apps, including Snapchat and Facebook Messenger.
The avatar patent is for more than chatting, though. It also describes a 3D avatar model, and applications for gaming, responsive reactions and eye-tracking. These could potentially be used in virtual reality or for gesture controls. The patent was filed in April 2011.
Bitmoji-maker Bitstrips was founded in 2007, and became a social media sensation with its Facebook comic strip app in 2012. Snap acquired Bitstrips in 2016 and integrated the customized cartoons into Snapchat.
If Apple is taking inspiration from Snap’s features, it wouldn’t be the first time — Facebook also has a storied history of ripping off Snapchat.