Apple iPhone Tracking
Apple's invention could enable an iPhone to send out its location while appearing entirely powered down Reuters

Apple wants to track your iPhone, even when it is supposedly shut off, according to a patent application published in January. The feature would allow an iPhone to send out a location signal and even snap a photo when powered down, two measures that could be embarrasing for would-be thieves.

The patent application titled “Apparatus and Method for Determining a Wireless Device’s Location after Shutdown,” was filed by Apple in July and published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark office on Jan 29. The invention is being positioned as a security feature by allowing the "Find My iPhone" app to work when the phone is powered off. The feature could also allow a phone to snap a picture of its surroundings, or one would assume, a thief.

Apple USPTO Filing iPhone Tracking
A diagram of device features used in Apple's invention USPTO/Apple

In one instance, the security feature could be enabled after an incorrect code is keyed into a device such as an iPhone. And in another, the camera could snap a picture that can also be tied to location data.

Currently, Apple already offers its users some ability to remotely track their device through the “Find My iPhone” feature, first introduced in 2010. Since then it has led to a number of stories of users recovering their devices through the service. But in order for it to work properly, the iPhone or iOS device has to be powered on.

Apple tracking invention flow chart
A flow chart of how the invention would send out the iPhone's location intermittently USPTO/Apple

Apple’s tracking method described in the patent hasn’t been implemented in the current version of iOS. Nor is it known if it plans to introduce the feature in a future iPhone or iOS version. But Apple does have an additional feature built into “Find My iPhone,” which when enabled allows the device to send out its last location before it is powered off or it shuts down due to a depleted battery.

But even without the tracking feature, Apple has a number of other security features built into iPhones to significantly reduce the value of a stolen device. One of those features, dubbed “Activation Lock,” prevents users from restoring and activating an iPhone or iOS device without the original user’s Apple ID and password. The kill switch feature and ones similar to it on Android devices have largely been credited for a large dip in smartphone thefts in major cities.