Apple's Find My iPhone app can be your shining knight during the gut-dropping experience of losing your phone by helping to locate your handset. However, it has one big flaw, it doesn't work if your phone is turned off – something that's likely to happen if it's in the wrong hands.
Currently the app will only show iPhone owners on a map the last place the handset pinged a cellular network, which is great, but not so handy if savvy thieves switch the phone off and make off with the device leaving you searching in circles.
However, a fix for this could be on the way after an Apple patent was discovered by CNBC looking into the possibility of technology whereby a device is able to transmit its location after it has been turned off. Published by the USPTO on 3 November, the patent titled 'Apparatus and method for determining a wireless device's location after shutdown' explores how to solve the app's biggest problem by quietly powering up the handset at timed intervals and sending out location data to the owner via email, instant message, SMS texts or GPS and shutting down the phone again to save battery.
Of course, a limitation of this patent is that it's only useful if the phone has battery but it explains that only essential hardware components would be activated with the feature and the display turned off to prolong power as well as offer no cues to the thief that it is sending information back to the rightful owner.
The 13-page patent describes the feature could work whereby anyone wanting to shutdown the iPhone would have to input their security pin in order to disable this location feature. Those who bypass the option to input a pin (i.e. someone who the phone doesn't belong to) will see the feature activate.
Another useful improvement for this potential upgrade to the Find My iPhone app is the fact it could transmit data and notify owners via several mediums rather than the current method whereby phone-less souls have to use a friend's app or to login to their iCloud account on a computer. The improvements would go a long way to hopefully help prevent thefts of smartphones and would help plug some of the gaping problems with Find My iPhone, however being a patent there's no way of knowing whether it'll ever see the light of day.