Apple hit the headlines in the US over the Christmas period, with the news that it has thought up an application to assist shoppers in stores. revealed that on December 20 Apple filed an application with the US Patent and Trademark Office for the system. The software would let customers place an order in a store using a wireless device such as a media player or mobile phone.

Seeing as Apple produces the bestselling media player – the iPod – and is trying to dent the market share of more established handset manufacturers with its iPhone, such an application makes sense.

Consumers’ own devices have been mooted as the next revolution in retail technology for a number of years and, clearly, Apple has made the decision that the time is right to take this idea forward.

At the moment, it seems that the system is focused on queue-busting in food service environments. The patent application refers to a process for customers placing an order and then being notified when it is ready to grab at a pick-up station. This could tie in with the existing relationship that Apple has with Starbucks.

However, it only takes a little imagination to see how this could be used in other shopping environments where service is necessary, such as at a deli counter or in Argos, for example.

The system description in the application suggests that the devices could also keep track of where consumers shop and what they like to buy. Stores would then be able to keep track of regular customers and their favourite orders.

While the wireless technology to allow such a system to work is well established, the key to getting consumers to adopt such a system will boil down to how slick the application and its user interface is.

Apple has a track record of persuading consumers to adopt new technology and ways of doing things. If any company can kick off this step change in the way people shop, Apple must surely be among the most likely retailers to get customers to bite.