Imagine this: you run some errands after work, and don’t realize until after you get home that you left your umbrella… somewhere between work and home. Instead of checking every store’s lost and found, you just open up an app on your phone and report the umbrella, which has a low-energy Bluetooth tag on it, missing. The app responds with the approximate location of your item, and the last time it was spotted there.
This works not because the tag has a GPS locator on it, but because someone else with the same app passed by the umbrella after you left it behind, and made a note of the location. The system will note the item’s distance from the nearest WiFi access point or cell tower, and tell you where it is based on that.
Apple was recently granted a patent for this kind of system, which we learned about from AppleInsider. If this sounds a lot like Tile and other similar services that let you attach tags to things and later find them, that’s because it is pretty much the same system. Apple applied for this patent just over a year ago, and it was granted earlier this month.
There are two flaws with this kind of crowdsourced lost and found service: first, you need a critical mass of people using it, to make it plausible that someone will actually walk within a few yards of where you left the umbrella.
Second, running the app in the background on your phone and having it constantly scanning for nearby items can be a big power drain, which makes the idea rather unappealing and means there’s even less of a critical mass of people using it in public at any given time.
While Apple hasn’t announced its intentions for this patent, what if the phone-maker sold those Bluetooth beacon tags and put the app on all iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch users by default?
We’ve seen the power of Apple’s own “Find my (Device)” app when a reader traced her iPad to a specific office within an airport, finally convincing United to ship her the missing iPad.
Such a system would also have massive privacy implications, with people constantly scanning the location of each other’s purses, keys, backpacks, and umbrellas.
by Laura Northrup via Consumerist