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Thursday, August 06, 2009, 05:55 am PT (08:55 am ET)

Apple working on device abuse detection technology

Apple has investigated a system where portable devices like iPods and iPhones would detect and store into memory "consumer abuse events" such as exposure to extreme cold, heat or moisture in void of warranty, a new patent application reveals.

The invention, entitled "Consumer Abuse Detection System and Method," was discovered by AppleInsider in a new patent application disclosure this week. Apple originally filed for the patent on Feb. 1, 2008. The concept aims to detect issues, like a dropped iPhone, that might void the warranty on the device.

Apple already includes liquid submersion indicators in its MacBook Pros, iPhones and iPods. They irreversibly change color once they come in contact with a liquid, thereby offering the company's retail store staff and authorized repair specialists an easy way to determine if a customer caused damage to their product with liquids — incidents that aren't covered under Apple's standard warranties. Rather than the physical indicator, the new system would save information of damage digitally into memory.

"The system may include an interface by which a diagnostic device may access the memory to analyze the records and determine whether a consumer abuse event occurred, when the event occurred, and, in some embodiments, what type of abuse event occurred," the patent reads. "By providing the capability to quickly and easily detect whether consumer abuse occurred in an electronic device, a vendor or manufacturer diagnosing a returned product may be able to better determine whether or not to initiate a product return under a warranty policy."

In addition to warranty protection, the abuse detection circuitry could be used to disable the electronic device if an issue is detected, potentially reducing the risk of damage to the device. The system would aim protect a myriad of parts on devices, including the screen, processor, memory, and potentially inserted devices like SD or CompactFlash cards.

The system would recognize a number of incident types, with liquid and thermal sensors detecting the elements, a shock sensor for drops, and a continuity sensor to detect tampering with the device. Apple suggests that such a system could save money for product vendors and manufacturers who receive warranty returns on products that have been abused.

"A problem arises when a device has failed due to consumer abuse which may not be readily apparent upon a cursory inspection, but a consumer attempts to return the device for repair or replacement under the warranty," the patent reads. "Often, particularly at a point of sale, personnel receiving the returned device may be unqualified or untrained to determine whether or not a device has failed due to manufacturing defects or due to consumer abuse."

It continues: "Thus, personnel at the point of sale may often times exchange the returned product with a working replacement product regardless of the cause of failure in order to avoid potential conflicts with the customer. As a result, it is not uncommon for consumers to receive replacement products or repair services on abused products not covered under the terms of a warranty. Such erroneous replacements or repairs may be costly to the vendor and/or manufacturer of the product."

Abuse patent 1


Abuse patent 2