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Apple patent hints at 'find my iPhone' enhancements

A new patent suggests Apple may be cooking up a more complex version of its "find my iPhone" service that will be better equipped to help find lost or stolen iOS devices.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
2 min read

Find my iPhone

A new patent application released by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office today shows that Apple's "find my iPhone" service may one day morph into a much more complex system for keeping tabs on and recovering lost or stolen Apple devices.

The patent, which was published by the USPTO this morning and later picked up by Patently Apple, covers "systems for proactively securing mobile devices." In short, its drawings and descriptions hint at a service wherein an owner can selectively pick and choose what data and applications can be accessed, while keeping sensitive data secure.

One big difference from the existing system is a new mode that alerts an iOS user to the fact that their phone is under surveillance. The patent describes and depicts a system where a user would get a message that his device is being pinged for its location, at which point he could cancel that request by entering in a correct passcode. That screen also includes an option to contact the default owner with a phone call, a feature that would come in handy in case someone was trying to return the device.

A depiction of how the data might look when it's collected. Patently Apple

What is potentially a more interesting tidbit to be gleaned from the application is that this system can record phone calls and other information from a device that has been put into lock-down mode if it's been marked as being compromised. The patent describes a system where the user of that device will see that this is the case, and any information and recordings from those actions are sent to a server so that a recovery of the device isn't needed to obtain those records.

Apple's "find my iPhone" feature turned two years old last week. The service was originally introduced as a component of the paid MobileMe service, with Apple later deciding to make it a free and integrated feature of iOS. This time last year Apple also released an iOS app for the service, which lets users keep an eye on and administrate other iOS devices without having to use a computer. The feature has since been ported over to the upcoming version of Apple's Mac OS, which is being released next month.