Currently, you can find a missing iPhone, iPad or Mac by using the iCloud feature Find My iPhone, but that system relies on your lost device being turned on and connecting to the internet. So color us curious that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office published an Apple patent that would help you track down missing devices that wouldn't require that they phone home to Apple's iCloud servers, but instead use a "lost-and-found service."
Apple's U.S. Patent No. 9,479,920 is for a "Power management in crowd-sourced lost-and-found service" and uses Bluetooth Low Energy (LE) technology to ping waypoints in your community. If this sounds familiar, Apple's patent appears to share a lot of features with the Tile trackers, which users can clip onto their keychain or slot into their wallets.
Apple's patent suggests it too would use a system where users can "attach" an "electronic tag" to a device so it emits this signal, but we have to wonder if Apple would be more likely to build this technology into future iPhones, iPads and MacBooks. If a tag can be attached, it's not hard to imagine it getting detached, and the device becoming harder to find.
Users could name their tracked devices with a label (Apple uses "My Backpack" in the hypothetical detailed in the patent), and then register the tag with Apple's "lost-and-found" service so as to locate the device if it goes missing. And if someone finds a lost device, they could log it into the service manually, to create an event in the history of the product's location.
Apple, ever attentive to those concerned with their privacy and controlling their devices, will give users the option to opt-out, so that a history of their locations isn't collected. Apple also notes its use of Bluetooth LE would give users less reason to opt out, as this technology could allow tags to be monitored "without significant battery drain."
If this patent comes to fruition, it would give more-forgetful smartphone owners a solid reason to buy into Apple's device ecosystem, as Android device-makers don't offer any similar native option. Unless you count the pillar of smoke coming out of Note 7 handsets.