Apple (AAPL) is toying with the idea of social lending.
In a filing recently made public by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, the tech giant reveals its dreams of creating a type of cash dispensing network.
You're out of cash and nowhere near an automated teller machine. But, instead of driving to a bank branch, you fire up a cash app on your iPhone, ask for a ten-spot and then your phone tells you where to meet a stranger who is willing to fork over the cash.
Your lender is instantly paid back through iTunes, which then charges your credit card for the money in addition to a service fee.
"Could Apple pull it off?" says Celent analyst Bob Meara, in a blog post. "Effortlessly! It has all the requisite components: a critical mass of iPhone users, geolocation enabled on the vast majority (I think), a distribution mechanism for the requisite apps and its iTunes accounts each iPhone user must maintain."
The patent, which was originally filed in July 2011, was first noticed by the tech blog UnWiredView.com.
It's hard, however, to imagine that the app could disrupt ATM usage, says Meara in an email to American Banker.
"But even a modest cannibalization would be a terrific revenue stream for Apple, in the U.S. alone," he wrote, adding that there are about 8 billion ATM transactions a year.
"So a 1% share of the total going to Apple globally and you have a respectable revenue stream."
Realistically it's hard to imagine that such an app would garner relevent, widespread use.
"Obviously, ATM penetration differs widely between countries and between urban and rural locations within a country, but I imagine if I plan to be in a remote area, I would make sure in advance I have cash or other means to pay," such as cards, says Zil Bareisis, a senior analyst with Celent. In addition, "I can see many people being careful when responding to such requests to lend money. Essentially, you are waving your open wallet in front of complete strangers. Of course, most people are honest and many transactions would work absolutely fine, but it would only take a few stories of muggings or unpleasant experiences to give the service a bad name."
Of course, Apple is among only a few companies that have the scale to potentially disjoint the industry. And it's already stated a strong interest in financial services.