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New Apple patent will let iPhone 'feel safe' based on location and unlock itself

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Apple's vision of the future includes mobile devices that automatically lock or unlock themselves and shift into various security levels by sensing their own location, according to a new patent published Thursday by the U.S. Patent and Trade Office.

The patent is for a technology that uses both hardware and software to adjust access levels of the device based on its location. For example, when a user's iPhone detects that he is at home, the iPhone automatically unlocks itself and disables the requirement for swiping with Touch ID or entering a passcode. Consequently, if the same iPhone detects that the user has left his home, it shifts into high-security mode, putting passcode and Touch ID features back in place, as well as added security requirements for apps such as Calendar and Address Book.

"Because some locations may be inherently more secure, such as a user's home or office, these locations may be considered 'safe' and require less stringent security," writes Apple in its patent application. "It can be desirable to have decreased security requirements when the mobile device is at a secure location. Conversely, some locations may be considered higher risk or 'unsecure.' In these locations, it can be desirable to implement stronger security protections."

The patent also says that a mobile device can use any interface to determine its location, the most common of which include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS, among others. The technology will also require the addition of two location indicators, called location aspects in the patent, to verify the device's location and approve the security changes. Location indicators can include the phone's geographic location, proximity to a connected device and access to a particular network.

It is worth noting that this is not the first patent application of its kind. Last year, Google filed a patent for a very similar technology for a "location-based security system" for a mobile device that will require a strong password when it detects that it is not in a secure area and reverts back to a simple swipe to unlock when the phone's location shows the user is at home. Google also elaborated on its latest security features at its recently held I/O 2014 conference, saying the location-based security system will be available for users of its upcoming Android L mobile platform.

A few Android devices also have the capability to unlock when it connects with certain devices. For instance, Samsung's flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S5, automatically disables security when it is within the 10-meter range of a Bluetooth-connected device, such as any of the Gear smartwatches.

However, Apple may include a number of more advanced features in its system, including one that automatically turns off certain features when the device detects that it is inside a car. 

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