Looks like patent day for Apple news this day, and the latest application to come to light may have a little more impact on many than some – as it appears to describe a system by which mobile carriers may be able to limit, or indeed, switch off apps and app features held on your iPhone.
The patent, Systems and Methods for Provisioning Computing Devices, allows carriers to “specify access limitations to certain device resources which may otherwise be available to users of the device”, according to the description.
“Mobile devices often have capabilities that the carriers do not want utilized on their networks,” Apple explains. “Various applications on these devices may also need to be restricted,” Slashdot informs.
Carrier provisioning profiles are distributed to computing devices via an activation service during the provisioning process.
As far as we can glean, the patent covers some kind of certificate-based authority by which applications and device features can be disabled.
“For example, a mobile device may be designed with Bluetooth functionality, but the carrier may wish to prevent its users from taking advantage of that capability. Various applications on these devices may also need to be restricted,” Apple explains.
We’re curious if this means Apple’s laying the ground for an assault on jailbreaking. We’re also wondering if the patent description might be related to the needs of some local regulators – for example, disabling WiFi support for some territories.
It’s all in the software: “When code executes on the device, the policy process may check entitlements specified in the carrier provisioning profile to determine whether the code execution request may be granted. If the carrier provisioning profile includes the necessary entitlements, the code may be permitted to access the data and/or system functionality requested. If the carrier provisioning profile does not include the necessary entitlements, the ability of the code to access certain data and/or functionality on the device may be restricted.”
Again, as far as we can understand it, the patent applies to creating vetting systems which can be maintained by software on the device, or carried on hardware. The patent even clarifies this: “Those of skill may recognize that the various illustrative logical blocks, modules, circuits, and algorithm steps described in connection with the embodiments disclosed herein may be implemented as electronic hardware, computer software, or combinations of both.”
We suspect this could lead to the release of Apple mobile devices that carry inherent hardware limitations which tie the device to specific carriers, or enforce use limitations defined by the carriers, or by Apple itself.
Interestingly, the iPhone isn’t referred to explicitly in this patent, which refers to "device". Theoretically, then, these technologies could therefore be applied to any Apple device with network/carrier access – such as the rumoured 3G-capable tablet, perhaps?