iPhones could soon have the ability to map environments using augmented reality technology.. Getty Images/Leon Neal

Apple has just been granted a new patent for “augmented reality maps” by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. This new patent appears to be a snippet of what the Cupertino giant could have been preparing all along, ever since CEO Tim Cook stated months ago that augmented reality is bigger than virtual reality.

On Tuesday, patent 9,488,488 — filed back in Feb. 12, 2010 — was published on the United States Patent website. Based on the abstract of the document, the patent is for a technology that lets a “handheld communication device” capture and show real-time video stream of the environment upon detection of “geographic position, camera direction and tilt of the image capture device.”

Simplifying what the document states, AppleInsider says the technology being described in the patent is a mapping system that presents real-time augmented reality views of a user’s surrounding environment. The Apple-centric news site also indicated that an advanced sensor is used by this technology to gather digital information, such as street names, points of interest and other elements that are overlaid on top of the live video being captured by a smartphone’s camera.

To use the technology, a user should launch the Maps app and open the AR feature that activates the rear camera. The mapping system then works by correlating data from several components of the iPhone like the digital compass, gyroscope, accelerometer and GPS. The system is also said to provide users with a seamless AR experience when switching from live video to bird’s eye view.

In the patent, augmented reality is described as a technology that supplements reality with additional information. The implementation of this technology would be visible in the points of interest and objects that will appear on top of a video feed of the surroundings. In terms of its practicality, the “augmented reality maps” are said to come in handy for users visiting a foreign city.

The emergence of this new patent comes months after Tim Cook exclusively spoke with ABC News’ “Good Morning America” and revealed that augmented reality (AR) is going to be the bigger technology than virtual reality (VR) in the near future.

"There's virtual reality and there's augmented reality -- both of these are incredibly interesting, but my own view is that augmented reality is the larger of the two, probably by far,” Cook said at the time. "Virtual reality sort of encloses and immerses the person into an experience that can be really cool, but probably has a lower commercial interest over time.”