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Old Dec 5, 2012, 04:25 PM   #1
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Another Business Idea

Thought of this one an hour ago; this one might actually work. I haven't seen it around anywhere but here it goes - feel free to give any and all suggestions: A protective case with a chip inside. It charges just like any other battery case, but it's not a battery case, it's a lost phone type of device. Directed towards people who are suseptible to losing their phone or something. Location services are always enabled and something (haven't figured this part out yet) would be needed to take the case off. Just like "Find My iPhone", it would connect to a server and you'd enter credentials you set on the phone when you first get the case. Thus, phone found. The only flaw would be when the case dies, but since it wouldn't need much power consumption, it would last a while.
So, what do ya think?
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Old Dec 5, 2012, 04:28 PM   #2
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Where will the chip send the signal to?
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Old Dec 5, 2012, 05:01 PM   #3
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Where will the chip send the signal to?
The server
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Old Dec 5, 2012, 05:01 PM   #4
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What if someone just takes the case off?

Edit: just reread and saw you didn't know how to prevent that. Not a bad idea but obviously not much good for the iPhone since Find my iDevice already exists.
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Old Dec 5, 2012, 05:21 PM   #5
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If it's a "case", it needs to be very thin. That's a significant constraint on the battery. It's also a significant constraint on what kinds of circuitry you can embed in the case. Extreme thinness is not cheap, in either batteries or circuitry.

What kind of price range do you expect to sell this for? I'd be amazed if you could get the manufacturing cost below $30-$50 in large quantities. And that doesn't count initial costs for circuit design, RF testing and licensing, case design, case molds, etc.


What kind of radio? Cell? Wifi? Something else? If it's wifi or something else, what happens if there are no joinable networks (i.e. ones that don't require a password you may not know) near enough to connect to?


Battery power (hence lifetime) is generally proportional to volume (LxWxH). So thin batteries tend not to last long. But a radio transmitter (which is what the circuitry is) takes a lot of power to transmit. If it's transmitting regularly, in order to be tracked, that means repeated bursts of fairly high power. This is not something I would expect a thin battery to be well-suited for. So it would need a lot of recharging, and where does it get that from?

What is your experience or familiarity with electronics or radio engineering? Or are you just throwing things out randomly and expecting everyone else to handle the engineering feasibility?
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Old Dec 5, 2012, 05:47 PM   #6
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What if someone just takes the case off?

Edit: just reread and saw you didn't know how to prevent that. Not a bad idea but obviously not much good for the iPhone since Find my iDevice already exists.
But people can shut off location services.

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If it's a "case", it needs to be very thin. That's a significant constraint on the battery. It's also a significant constraint on what kinds of circuitry you can embed in the case. Extreme thinness is not cheap, in either batteries or circuitry.

What kind of price range do you expect to sell this for? I'd be amazed if you could get the manufacturing cost below $30-$50 in large quantities. And that doesn't count initial costs for circuit design, RF testing and licensing, case design, case molds, etc.


What kind of radio? Cell? Wifi? Something else? If it's wifi or something else, what happens if there are no joinable networks (i.e. ones that don't require a password you may not know) near enough to connect to?


Battery power (hence lifetime) is generally proportional to volume (LxWxH). So thin batteries tend not to last long. But a radio transmitter (which is what the circuitry is) takes a lot of power to transmit. If it's transmitting regularly, in order to be tracked, that means repeated bursts of fairly high power. This is not something I would expect a thin battery to be well-suited for. So it would need a lot of recharging, and where does it get that from?

What is your experience or familiarity with electronics or radio engineering? Or are you just throwing things out randomly and expecting everyone else to handle the engineering feasibility?
Not sure on price range, maybe $40, which is the average price for a good case these days anyways. Gave me a good idea, would run on a Qualcomm chip intertwined with the phones' internet capabilities, with a Lightning (or 30 pin, micro USB or mini USB) port built into the bottom of the case to connect to the phone. Charging via USB, very similar to the Mophie case (port on the side of the case to charge it). Eventually, maybe even solar. Not much experience in engineering, I'd probably hire someone for it.
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Old Dec 5, 2012, 05:50 PM   #7
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But people can shut off location services.
A thief can't as long as you turn passcode lock on. Of course Find My iPhone still has weaknesses: DFU mode can restore the phone back to normal easily and taking the SIM out will stop the tracking from working.

But taking a case off a phone is easier. And how would this case connect to the network in and of itself? Will it have a separate SIM in it? And will it have a GPS too? How will all of this stuff fit into a case that's meant to stay on the phone 24/7?

This is a good concept but your suggested execution is fatally flawed. A better way to do this would be to have a chip built into the phone which runs a separate low-level OS, separately from anything else. The main OS can control it but only with authentication, for which you need a passcode. You'd need to lock this down hard to make sure it can't be easily hacked. This system would not be reset when the phone is restored either. This chip would act as a backdoor if you provide authentication remotely through Find My iPhone and let you control the phone, track it, etc.

A system like that would be very hard to crack, certainly beyond the skills of your average phone thief. If you can make a concept that works you might be able to license it to Apple, you never know.
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Old Dec 5, 2012, 05:53 PM   #8
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A thief can't as long as you turn passcode lock on. Of course Find My iPhone still has weaknesses: DFU mode can restore the phone back to normal easily and taking the SIM out will stop the tracking from working.

But taking a case off a phone is easier. And how would this case connect to the network in and of itself? Will it have a separate SIM in it? And will it have a GPS too? How will all of this stuff fit into a case that's meant to stay on the phone 24/7?

This is a good concept but your suggested execution is fatally flawed. A better way to do this would be to have a chip built into the phone which runs a separate low-level OS, separately from anything else. The main OS can control it but only with authentication, for which you need a passcode. You'd need to lock this down hard to make sure it can't be easily hacked. This system would not be reset when the phone is restored either. This chip would act as a backdoor if you provide authentication remotely through Find My iPhone and let you control the phone, track it, etc.

A system like that would be very hard to crack, certainly beyond the skills of your average phone thief. If you can make a concept that works you might be able to license it to Apple, you never know.
Ummm, what?
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Old Dec 5, 2012, 05:57 PM   #9
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Ummm, what?
What exactly do you need me to clarify?
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Old Dec 5, 2012, 05:57 PM   #10
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What exactly do you need me to clarify?
The back door part
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Old Dec 5, 2012, 06:24 PM   #11
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The back door part
This explanation is simplified but this is the basic idea.

The iPhone has multiple processors. One is the main powerful one that runs iOS and all your apps.

However, the antenna has its own processor, and that works solely on making all your connections work. This is the reason why unlocking an iPhone requires additional work after a jailbreak - because jailbreaking cracks the bootloader and OS of the main processor, not the system of that separate processor (the baseband firmware) which controls the actual phone part of the device.

What I am suggesting is another separate system like this which works solely on anti-theft. So it will be accessible to the main OS of the phone, just as the antenna's chip is accessible to the main OS to allow the phone to actually make use of the antenna, but it will function as a completely separate system and the user of the phone can only control it with the key. The system will boot up and run independently of iOS and it will be strongly encrypted. If the phone is turned on, this system will be turned on too. If the iPhone is restored, this separate system will not be affected as it's separate from the main OS of the phone. The only way to get past it, assuming it's not been hacked, would be to never connect the phone to mobile data network or WiFi network ever again.

This system will be able to use the network of the phone (mobile network, WiFi network, whatever) to tell a remote user (you) where the phone is if it's lost as long as you authenticate it (log into your iCloud account and confirm the passcode, which is then sent the system for authentication). From there the system can perform a number of operations on your phone, including allowing you to track it, making a sound come out of it, making it wipe all data, or whatever you want.
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Old Dec 5, 2012, 06:30 PM   #12
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This explanation is simplified but this is the basic idea.

The iPhone has multiple processors. One is the main powerful one that runs iOS and all your apps.

However, the antenna has its own processor, and that works solely on making all your connections work. This is the reason why unlocking an iPhone requires additional work after a jailbreak - because jailbreaking cracks the bootloader and OS of the main processor, not the system of that separate processor (the baseband firmware) which controls the actual phone part of the device.

What I am suggesting is another separate system like this which works solely on anti-theft. So it will be accessible to the main OS of the phone, just as the antenna's chip is accessible to the main OS to allow the phone to actually make use of the antenna, but it will function as a completely separate system and the user of the phone can only control it with the key. The system will boot up and run independently of iOS and it will be strongly encrypted. If the phone is turned on, this system will be turned on too. If the iPhone is restored, this separate system will not be affected as it's separate from the main OS of the phone. The only way to get past it, assuming it's not been hacked, would be to never connect the phone to mobile data network or WiFi network ever again.

This system will be able to use the network of the phone (mobile network, WiFi network, whatever) to tell a remote user (you) where the phone is if it's lost as long as you authenticate it (log into your iCloud account and confirm the passcode, which is then sent the system for authentication). From there the system can perform a number of operations on your phone, including allowing you to track it, making a sound come out of it, making it wipe all data, or whatever you want.
The only flaw with that is the phone would have to be on for that to work, unless the phone is active when it's turned off, which I highly doubt. If the chip ran independently, the phone wouldn't have to be on for it to function properly.
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Old Dec 5, 2012, 06:37 PM   #13
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The only flaw with that is the phone would have to be on for that to work, unless the phone is active when it's turned off, which I highly doubt. If the chip ran independently, the phone wouldn't have to be on for it to function properly.
Yes but as soon as the phone is turned on and connected the system will start working again. There wouldn't be a viable hardware hack for this either since the anti-theft system would be built into the SoC. Apple would be able to do this because they already get their SoCs custom made. So unless someone went to the trouble of replacing the entire logic board there's no way around it as long as you develop very strong software for it. And of course make sure it's updatable so patches can be installed easily.
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Old Dec 5, 2012, 06:45 PM   #14
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Yes but as soon as the phone is turned on and connected the system will start working again. There wouldn't be a viable hardware hack for this either since the anti-theft system would be built into the SoC. Apple would be able to do this because they already get their SoCs custom made. So unless someone went to the trouble of replacing the entire logic board there's no way around it as long as you develop very strong software for it. And of course make sure it's updatable so patches can be installed easily.
Thanks for the tips! Do you really think I have something here (really just IP atm)?
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Old Dec 5, 2012, 06:48 PM   #15
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Thanks for the tips! Do you really think I have something here (really just IP atm)?
If you can actually develop a working prototype of the system I described, yes, you may be able to license that out. Just make sure to give me my cut
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Old Dec 5, 2012, 06:50 PM   #16
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The server
How would it connect to the server?
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Old Dec 5, 2012, 06:55 PM   #17
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how would it connect to the server?
3G/the Internet connection
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Old Dec 5, 2012, 07:09 PM   #18
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Not sure on price range, maybe $40, which is the average price for a good case these days anyways. Gave me a good idea, would run on a Qualcomm chip intertwined with the phones' internet capabilities, with a Lightning (or 30 pin, micro USB or mini USB) port built into the bottom of the case to connect to the phone. Charging via USB, very similar to the Mophie case (port on the side of the case to charge it). Eventually, maybe even solar. Not much experience in engineering, I'd probably hire someone for it.
You have a whole lot of non-trivial engineering constraints here. Starting with the price (yes, an engineering constraint, because if you can't acquire parts for less than the expected selling cost, you don't have sustainable a business).

What do you know about Qualcomm chips? How would it "intertwine" with the phone's internet capabilities? How does that communicate over the external connector (be it Lightning, 30-pin, or whatever)?

What's the energy density of "maybe even solar"? How much time does it have to remain under what light intensity in order to get a worthwhile charge? How likely is it to obtain that charge if it's mostly in pockets, purses, or facing the ground because the user is reading the screen?

Have you done anything like a marketing-demand analysis? Who would want this? How would it be better than competitor products, i.e. how is it better than software-only Find My Phone services? How much would the expected customer really be willing to pay for the value-add above software-only?


In my opinion, with parts I know are on the market or expected to reach market any time in the next few years (based on projected chip fab capabilities), I don't see even a glimmer of hope that this would be viable for anywhere close to the stated price. Sorry if that bursts your bubble.

I think the engineering alone, without taking price into account, would take extraordinary skill in order to make it thin enough and capable enough to even be marketable. To hit a price point of even $150 retail would take exceptional skill and talent. You can't just hire that out to a random engineering team.

Last edited by chown33; Dec 5, 2012 at 07:16 PM.
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Old Dec 5, 2012, 07:17 PM   #19
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You have a whole lot of non-trivial engineering constraints here. Starting with the price (yes, an engineering constraint, because if you can't acquire parts for less than the expected selling cost, you don't have sustainable a business).

What do you know about Qualcomm chips? How would it "intertwine" with the phone's internet capabilities? How does that communicate over the external connector (be it Lightning, 30-pin, or whatever)?

What's the energy density of "maybe even solar"? How much time does it have to remain under what light intensity in order to get a worthwhile charge? How likely is it to obtain that charge if it's mostly in pockets, purses, or facing the ground because the user is reading the screen?

Have you done anything like a marketing-demand analysis? Who would want this? How would it be better than competitor products, i.e. how is it better than software-only Find My Phone services? How much would the expected customer really be willing to pay for the value-add above software-only?


In my opinion, with parts I know are on the market or expected to reach market any time in the next few years (based on projected chip fab capabilities), I don't see a hope in hell that this would be viable for anywhere close to the stated price. Sorry if that bursts your bubble.

I think the engineering alone, without taking price into account, would take extraordinary skill in order to make it thin enough and capable enough to even be marketable. To hit a price point of even $150 retail would take exceptional skill and talent. You can't just hire that out to a random engineering team.
Qualcomm chips provide the Internet connectivity of 3G/4G capable phones. Don't know that part yet, maybe it'll have it's own chip or automatically pair via Bluetooth sharing for all I know. Solar energy would be down the road. I have no idea how that works, but would certainly start out via USB. Market-demand is quite obvious. I haven't done any massive research on it but could be inferred from this alone: http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2...nwide/1646767/. Better than Find My iPhone because the phone needs to be on and have location services on to work. People are willing to pay $60 for a protective case, why not something that does more for the same price? Of course it would take time to develop. Just like any other technology, starts out small with BETAs and all that, is big at first and gets smaller and smaller (like the iPhone itself).
Is it considered venture capital? Doubtful, since the market for it isn't at all competitive for it. Granted, R&D hasn't proved that yet.
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Old Dec 5, 2012, 07:28 PM   #20
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Here's a Garmin device that seems to be somewhat close to this. It lists for $199, but is available for $129.

Like chown33 I think making money from something like this at a price point of <$100 is quite unlikely.

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Old Dec 5, 2012, 07:48 PM   #21
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Better than Find My iPhone because the phone needs to be on and have location services on to work.
If the in-case device is using the phone for its radio connection, as your earlier posts say, then the phone must be on in order for the case to make any connection. If the phone is off, then the in-case device has no way to connect to anything else. It won't even know it needs to turn the phone on and receive the message that tells it to send its location. This isn't a technological problem that can be solved by engineering, it's a fundamental logical problem: how does the in-case device know when and where to turn the phone on, in order to connect to anything else?

Conversely, if the phone is on so the in-case device can use it, then the phone itself already provides all the necessary capabilities. By itself, the phone can run software that finds its location, makes a connection, and relays that to a server. So exactly what added value does the in-case device really provide, and how is that a compelling sales point given the added cost over a simple dumb case?

I get the feeling you have little or no business or engineering experience, and haven't really done any kind of logical analysis or even a reality check on this idea. I don't intend to rain on your parade, but why should anyone take this idea seriously if you haven't done even the most basic business, marketing, or engineering research?
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Old Dec 5, 2012, 08:58 PM   #22
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This explanation is simplified but this is the basic idea.

The iPhone has multiple processors. One is the main powerful one that runs iOS and all your apps.

However, the antenna has its own processor, and that works solely on making all your connections work. This is the reason why unlocking an iPhone requires additional work after a jailbreak - because jailbreaking cracks the bootloader and OS of the main processor, not the system of that separate processor (the baseband firmware) which controls the actual phone part of the device.

What I am suggesting is another separate system like this which works solely on anti-theft. So it will be accessible to the main OS of the phone, just as the antenna's chip is accessible to the main OS to allow the phone to actually make use of the antenna, but it will function as a completely separate system and the user of the phone can only control it with the key. The system will boot up and run independently of iOS and it will be strongly encrypted. If the phone is turned on, this system will be turned on too. If the iPhone is restored, this separate system will not be affected as it's separate from the main OS of the phone. The only way to get past it, assuming it's not been hacked, would be to never connect the phone to mobile data network or WiFi network ever again.

This system will be able to use the network of the phone (mobile network, WiFi network, whatever) to tell a remote user (you) where the phone is if it's lost as long as you authenticate it (log into your iCloud account and confirm the passcode, which is then sent the system for authentication). From there the system can perform a number of operations on your phone, including allowing you to track it, making a sound come out of it, making it wipe all data, or whatever you want.
What you call the "antenna processor" is the baseband processor. There wouldn't need to be a separate anti-theft chip. What you describe is well within the capabilities of the baseband processor itself. It's a small matter of firmware.

In fact, every phone already has the fundamental capability for this feature: it's called the IMEI number. It's unique to each device (specifically, to each baseband processor chip), it's difficult to change, and it's already communicated to cell towers and cell service providers. From the afore-linked Wikipedia article:
The IMEI number is used by a GSM network to identify valid devices and therefore can be used for stopping a stolen phone from accessing that network. For example, if a mobile phone is stolen, the owner can call his or her network provider and instruct them to "blacklist" the phone using its IMEI number. This renders the phone useless on that network and sometimes other networks too, whether or not the phone's SIM is changed.
The main addition would be to the Application Processor (AP), i.e. the A6 or main SoC. If the baseband processor has firmware that detects the disabling of the IMEI number when told by a suitable message from the cell network, then the AP can ask the BBP if it's disabled, and then perform the remote wipe.

Or for the Find My Phone feature, the BBP receives the message from the cell network that a Find request has been made. The AP sees this and provides any location details it might have, otherwise the BBP by itself can provide a cell-tower triangulation location with no assistance from the AP.

None of this needs an external case, but it does need capabilities that can only be provided by the cell network provider, and by the provider of baseband processor firmware. It's a fairly natural extension of disabling an IMEI number, by making the device itself (i.e. the phone) aware of the IMEI disablement and having it act on that information.

None of this needs an external smart-case, either. It's all done in software or firmware using the chips already present in any phone.
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Old Dec 5, 2012, 09:11 PM   #23
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What you call the "antenna processor" is the baseband processor. There wouldn't need to be a separate anti-theft chip. What you describe is well within the capabilities of the baseband processor itself. It's a small matter of firmware.

In fact, every phone already has the fundamental capability for this feature: it's called the IMEI number. It's unique to each device (specifically, to each baseband processor chip), it's difficult to change, and it's already communicated to cell towers and cell service providers. From the afore-linked Wikipedia article:
The IMEI number is used by a GSM network to identify valid devices and therefore can be used for stopping a stolen phone from accessing that network. For example, if a mobile phone is stolen, the owner can call his or her network provider and instruct them to "blacklist" the phone using its IMEI number. This renders the phone useless on that network and sometimes other networks too, whether or not the phone's SIM is changed.
The main addition would be to the Application Processor (AP), i.e. the A6 or main SoC. If the baseband processor has firmware that detects the disabling of the IMEI number when told by a suitable message from the cell network, then the AP can ask the BBP if it's disabled, and then perform the remote wipe.

Or for the Find My Phone feature, the BBP receives the message from the cell network that a Find request has been made. The AP sees this and provides any location details it might have, otherwise the BBP by itself can provide a cell-tower triangulation location with no assistance from the AP.

None of this needs an external case, but it does need capabilities that can only be provided by the cell network provider, and by the provider of baseband processor firmware. It's a fairly natural extension of disabling an IMEI number, by making the device itself (i.e. the phone) aware of the IMEI disablement and having it act on that information.

None of this needs an external smart-case, either. It's all done in software or firmware using the chips already present in any phone.
That's a good point, the baseband itself could perform these actions. I did know about how the networks operate in relation to IMEIs etc. but like I said I wanted to keep my explanation simplified for OP.

Your implementation would require cooperation from the networks though, and that may be hard to do, especially in the US where the networks don't even bother blacklisting IMEIs of stolen handsets in the first place.
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Old Dec 5, 2012, 09:32 PM   #24
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I have put some thought into the idea, just don't have the engineering experience. The whole idea of it is to track the phone when location services are disabled. It doesn't matter if the phone is on or not. If location services are disabled, Find My iPhone is 100% useless. That's when the case comes in. It provides the "GPS" chip. The only thing missing is the Internet capability.
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Old Dec 5, 2012, 09:52 PM   #25
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I have put some thought into the idea, just don't have the engineering experience. The whole idea of it is to track the phone when location services are disabled. It doesn't matter if the phone is on or not. If location services are disabled, Find My iPhone is 100% useless. That's when the case comes in. It provides the "GPS" chip. The only thing missing is the Internet capability.
So your case needs: A power source, GPS (or other location capability), internet link.

Since you're outside the phone and thus limited to user space applications and Apple's restrictions on what kind of tasks can run in the background and devices that can be attached via the dock/lightning connector (without requiring a JB). Essentially, you're stuck providing your own data link since you can't easily leverage the phone's connection.

If the case's battery runs down, the GPS stops working and it can't tell where it is anymore, so the utility of this function is limited to the battery life of the case. The longer that is, the heavier it is.

The Garmin GPS tag I linked to earlier in the thread has all of these features, including its own cellular link including a $49/year service from AT&T. What exactly do you propose to do differently than it to cut the cost of the device by a factor of 5?

FWIW I've been involved in the hardware/firmware design of several "last gasp" and theft/tamper detection hardware features and they all suck.

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