A patent application filed by Apple and published Thursday hints at new ways the company can help diagnose a troubled iPod or iPhone if a customer has abused it. The patent goes into detail on a new system that goes above and beyond the existing onboard sensors, which can tell Apple whether your iPod or iPhone has been subjected to moisture.
The new system, described in U.S. Patent application No. 2009/0195394, covers not just moisture, but heat, shock, and tampering. If any one of these events occur, it's logged--time stamp and all, and Apple support personnel can then retrieve the information and use it for analysis on service claims.
The extra sensors would make it easier for Apple to determine if a device malfunction was due to the user, or the hardware itself. For instance, if there's a sudden drop, followed by an impact, then a moisture reading, it's pretty clear the owner dropped it into water. The same goes for thermal events, like leaving a phone in a hot car, or having a sudden and excessive heat flare-up, caused, for example, by putting it in a microwave.
The tamper sensor is the more mellow of the four tools. In the patent Apple simply describes this as "opening the casing or housing of a device and adding, removing, or altering the internal components." This may not even employ any additional hardware or software, and could use a simple adhesive strip that is broken once the casing is removed, as many other hardware makers employ.
What may scare some users about this patent is that Apple details a process wherein one of these sensor events can disable the phone, or put it into a disabled state for its own protection. When say, submerged in water, the new protocol would have the phone shut off access to the battery or the screen to protect internal components. It could also keep the user from resetting it or retrieving data until taken to a support center, which is a little creepy when you think about those times when you may need to make a call when both you and your phone have been through a tussle.
Update: Corrected patent number terminology and reference. Later update also corrected patent application status. It was published Thursday, not approved.