In November 2014, Snapchat filed a patent that could let users unlock photos and messages from friends if they’re standing in just the right spot.
The feature, which was devised by Snapchat’s CEO Evan Spiegel, director of video content Rylee Ebson, researcher Nathan Jurgenson, and visual effects coordinator Ryan Marzolph, would let the app unlock media for users based on their geolocation and the position of their mobile devices.
Specifically, the 35-page patent suggests Snapchat will let users unlock and view photos other people took right where they’re standing. The patent could also let friends send each other on photo hunts, telling them to visit a specific location before their messages can be opened and read.
It’s important to note that filing a patent doesn’t mean Snapchat plans to use the technology. These features may never see the light of day. But it does suggest that the company is thinking seriously about how to tie location into its product, something Snapchat has been lacking outside of its geo-based filters.
Here’s how the geolocation-based snaps could work, according to the patent filing:
Say you’re standing in front of a big tourist attraction, like the Empire State Building, where many people have already taken snaps. While you’re there, Snapchat might ask if you’d be open to sharing your photo publicly, like Snapchat does for its Stories feature.
An hour later, another Snapchat user might visit the Empire State Building and stand where you stood. If they lift their phone to take a photo, they may get a notification from Snapchat saying, “Raise your phone to view pictures previously taken from this spot.” The user would then be able to scroll through other similar snaps, including yours, for photo inspiration.
Or, if your friend previously visited the Empire State Building, you might get a notification while you’re there that reads, “Raise your phone to view pictures your friends took from this spot.”
Snapchat may also be mulling a feature that would let one friend to send another on a photo hunt of sorts. For example, if a friend takes a funny photo at Venice Beach in California, it can send the message to a friend but tell Snapchat that the friend will only be allowed to unlock the photo once they go to the same location.
The friend would receive a notification from Snapchat such as, “A picture has been shared with you. Go to Venice Beach Boardwalk to view it.”
Once the friend arrives at the boardwalk, Snapchat might send another notification encouraging the person to open the message.
Both of these features would allow Snapchat users to sort through a wealth of mobile photos based on specific locations, something that’s currently difficult to do.
“There has been an unprecedented boom in the popularity of amateur photography sparked by the widespread adoption of mobile technology, mobile phones in particular, that incorporate cameras,” the filing reads. But, Snapchat notes, most photo apps merely allow images to be shared or enhanced, not sorted in any particular way. “If the user wishes to view a photograph previously taken at a particular geographic location, the user may be required to tediously scroll through a large number of photographs.”
Snapchat declined to offer a statement about the patent.