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Apple has been granted a patent for an “avatar editing environment,” suggesting it may introduce virtual characters to a future version of iOS… but why?

Digital avatars could be used to represent iPhone and iPad users in much the same way a Facebook profile picture does, allowing the user to create a fun interpretation of themselves for use across various aspects of iOS. Starting with a blank face, users would drag and drop facial features and fashion accessories to make a virtual person.

The patent details a virtual editing environment for making custom avatars “for use in online games and other applications.” The idea will be familiar to anyone who has used the Nintendo Wii or last year’s Miitomo app to make their own “Miis,” cartoon version of themselves that are used to represent the player character in a host of Nintendo games.

Mii

Could Apple take inspiration from Nintendo’s iconic character creator?

Gaming is the obvious suspect for using these avatars, but we also imagine a system-wide approach in which a user’s avatar is used as an Apple ID thumbnail, a contact photo for iMessage, or even a user-specific personification of Siri. It’s also possible that this could somehow tie into Apple’s long-running interest in facial recognition and augmented reality technologies. Intriguing, to say the least…

Customizable avatars aren’t a new thing, but Apple has generally steered clear of this kind of thing in the past. Since it’s feature-packed iMessages update last year, though, we wouldn’t be surprised to see a few more fun extras make their way to iOS. It’s hard to say if this will see the light of day any time soon, but the patent was first filed back in 2011 so Apple has clearly been thinking about it for a while. Perhaps we’ll hear more when Apple unveils iOS 11 in June?

Read more: an exploration of interesting Apple patents from 2016