Apple has been awarded a patent that, if put into practice, would mean it could remotely disable particular iPhone functions in certain locations. For example, blocking your iPhone from shooting video at a music festival.
The patent, according to Apple Insider, means that Apple could:
‘Disable noise and/or light emanating from wireless devices (such as at a movie theatre), for preventing wireless devices from communicating with other wireless devices (such as in academic settings), and for forcing certain electronic devices to enter sleep mode when entering a sensitive area.’
Potentially, cinemas could sign up to the technology and automatically disable the ring-tones on your iPhone while you’re watching the film. It’s also possible they could disable any video functions on your phone to prevent you making a pirated recording of the film.
Schools could automatically turn off phones in the classroom and, even better, train operators could bar phones from trains altogether so that I don’t have someone shouting in my ear ‘I’m on a train’ for the entirety of my commute.
Still, most cinemas and schools already have policies in place about where and how you’re allowed to use your mobile phone. Similarly, many train operators have quiet carriages where mobiles aren’t allowed. Most people respect these rules.
Crippling your phone due to where you are
That said I do have some concerns about – if implemented – how this patent would work. Do you really want companies crippling your device because of where you happen to be? Should corporates have the ability to limit the use of a product you’ve bought?
To give you an analogy, cars are capable of doing over 100mph despite the 70mph limit that applies on motorways. I don’t advocate breaking the speed limit – far from it – but I wouldn’t want my car’s manufacturer controlling my speed remotely either.
The technology could also be used to stop the iPhone’s camera working in, for example, a public swimming bath or a public play area.
As a parent, I’m all too familiar with signs telling me I can’t take photographs of my daughter enjoying herself in these locations. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand there’s nothing I wouldn’t do to protect her, but on the other I have, on occasion, felt I’ve missed out on capturing precious memories.
Apple’s technology might be able to provide further protection for children in these environments. However, hi-tech solutions, notably parental control software, aren’t foolproof and are no substitute for common sense.
There’s no guarantee Apple will act on this patent but, if it does, I hope it takes a transparent approach that considers consumer choice and works in conjunction with existing safeguards.