Apple patent clears road for theft-proof iPhones, Macs


New Member
Apr 8, 2007
Apple Inc. has successfuly patented an anti-theft safeguard for notebooks, phones, and other portable electronics that offers protection simply by sensing the outside world.

Originally filed in March 2004 with company storage chief Paul Wehrenberg as the inventor, the U.S. patent awarded to to Apple this week centers around an "acceleration-based theft detection system" for movable devices.

In the original filing, the company notes that in many cases the theft of a device brings certain movement cues that aren't present for accidental behavior, such as rapid sustained movement. Most unintentional bumps and drops are easy to recognize as sudden stops, it states.

By analyzing the movement of the device over a set amount of time, a device could theoretically tell the difference between a burglar and legitimate users. This would let owners leave their systems alone without a cable lock or other physical security measures while still knowing that sensitive information stored inside would be safe.

Installing an accelerometer and the right software would easily solve the problem, according to the patent. Certain positions or vibration conditions could automatically send a signal to the computer hardware at the heart of the device, forcing it to trigger an audio or video alarm. The device could even be locked entirely and would require a password to return to normal.

One element of the patent observes that software could tune the individual settings, selectively turning on the various warnings or softening the conditions if users trigger the alarm too frequently in everyday use.

[image of patent]

Although Apple has been careful to avoid referencing specific hardware in explaining the mechanism, the California-based firm justifies the invention by pointing out the vulnerability of one of its own devices, to theft -- notably, the iPod. Cellphones and notebooks were also cited as obvious targets for thieves and deserving of the breakthrough.

And while no signs have surfaced that would show an imminent use of the motion-sensing technology, the patent draws attention to the appearance of accelerometers in recent -- and upcoming -- Apple products. The most conspicuous example is the iPhone, which will have an acceleration sensor to auto-rotate the visual interface as the owner tilts the device on its side for media playback.

Macs have also had accelerometers for years. The Sudden Motion Sensor, used first in later PowerBooks and used in MacBooks today, is officially meant to stop the hard disk during a fall but has been used by hobbyists to trigger events within Mac OS X.

No iPods currently feature accelerometers. Apple's only nod to security for the devices has so far been the Screen Lock introduced for the fifth-generation iPod and iPod nano, which hides its controls only through a four-digit combination controlled by the click wheel.
While I don't expect to see it on the iPhone coming out in June, it will be interesting to see in future. Not only how it effects Apple's products, but other hardware manufacturers. How will it tell the difference between a user running and a thief's movements?


Feb 25, 2007
psp had this neat app that sent you the ip address of the computer the psp connects to every time it gets connected to a pc. So if it gets stolen you will know who stole it (based on their ip)

Spin This!

New Member
May 4, 2007
How will it tell the difference between a user running and a thief's movements?
Exactly the question I had. If you were going to steal something, wouldn't you want to make it look like it was yours? I don't see how any accelerometer would help in this case. It sounds like it would cause more false alarms than anything. The problem is usually the theives are smarter than the makers most of the time; these security systems are all based around a set of conditions that must be met before the alarm goes off... once you know these conditions you can generally beat the system. It sounds like AppleInsider is trying to drum up news on a slow news day... we all know patenting doesn't mean a whole lot these days...

The only way this would ever work is biometrics of some sort... you're always touching the scroll wheel (or trackpad)... why not use a fingerprint reader somewhere?

So if it gets stolen you will know who stole it (based on their ip)
Not really a security feature imo. Most IPs can easily be spoofed by public gateways. Even if you did manage to get the IP address, it may be days before police are able to do an investigation... provided they do it at all. An IP address usually isn't enough probable cause for a search unless the thief is caught in the act.