Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Revenge of the nerds

When Apple first introduced the Apps store back in July 2008, no-one had any idea just how influential it would become. In fact, industrious developers and tech-hungry users have joined forces to turn this gimmicky notion into a multi-billion dollar industry.

The apps themselves vary in quality, from the absolutely ingenious to the bewilderingly pointless. Does anyone really need a virtual carp pond, pretend pint or a fart-o-meter?

Thankfully, many of the widgets that have been developed over the last couple of years do more than simply provide users with an amusing way of checking that their phone's accelerometer is still working. You can check local traffic cameras, get real-time Tube updates or even track down your phone if it goes missing.

Back when mobile phones were the size of a shoe-box, the closest technology came to helping people locate their missing valuables was a voice-activated key fob that beeped when you whistled for it. Nowadays, it's a very different story.

This fourth-year computer sciences student put one of these apps to the test recently when his flat in Acton was burgled. In a fairly lengthy post on his brand new blog, he details how he was able to lock his phone, track down his stolen goods and get the police involved.

Using WaveSecure, plus Google Maps and Street View, he found out that his missing technology was being sold in a shop on the High Street just half a mile away. The stolen goods were successfully recovered (although they're still in police custody) and his inaugural post scored him over a million new readers.

In a display of ingenuity and real-time crime solving that would have the cast of 24 hanging up their electrodes in shame, our industrious hero was able to disable the threat in less time than it would take Chloe to chew her lip and triangulate Jack's phone signal. As a result, he'll soon be reunited with his purloined particulars and has ably demonstrated that these applications can actually be put to productive use.

It's just a shame that, even as this story was breaking about Street View helping to solve a crime, the innovative location software was being fingered by a somewhat less-informed source in another theft. Gordon Rayner, a milkman from West Yorkshire, has been telling the press that his mountain bike was stolen because Google's widget enabled would-be thieves to peer inside his garage.

It doesn't seem to matter that even the most eagle-eyed web-watcher would only be able to identify an old washing machine inside his garage. Or the fact that imagery on the site is at least six months old - Rayner seems to think that Street View works like full-colour CCTV.

Still, if West Yorkshire police need any help investigating this particular theft, there's a ComSci student in Acton who might be able to give them some pointers...

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