Apple is seemingly considering a Ping-style social networking system for shopping, which would allow users to canvas opinions on potential purchases, rate businesses and product lines, and get gift ideas. A patent application titled "Social Networking in Shopping Environments" describes an in-store kiosk which would offer a stock list to a user's iPhone; from that list, the shopper could then ask questions from their contacts or other friends lists about individual items or ranges.
The questions could be closed, requesting a simple yes or no response to whether contacts believe a certain item should be bought, or more open-ended. Apple suggests a husband might canvas suggestions on a gift for his wife using the system. Meanwhile, businesses could use the unnamed social networking tool to request ratings on products or general service.
Apple wouldn't be alone in using smartphones to allow shoppers to share opinions; Google's Hotpot app for Android allows for mobile ratings of stores and restaurants, though lacks the more specific item-by-item approach that Apple seem to be considering. Of course, there's no telling whether a patent will ever actually spawn a product launch, but given Apple's apparent interest in NFC and the potential to use an iPhone as a mobile wallet, apps that encourage you to whip your phone out during shopping trips would seem a sensible approach.