Future Apple devices could perform tasks without powering up from sleep

Posted:
in General Discussion edited August 2020
Apple has been investigating ways of saving power, and adding convenience, by allowing devices to respond to network requests and perform some low-power tasks, all while in sleep mode.

The existing Energy Saver option allows certain Macs to have a Power Nap feature, but Apple's plan could go further
The existing Energy Saver option allows certain Macs to have a Power Nap feature, but Apple's plan could go further


You've long been able to make home servers out of spare Macs. Those Macs have also long had a setting called "wake for network access," which means they could stay in low-power or sleep mode until needed.

However, when you connect back to your Mac over a virtual network service, and it has a screen, that display wakes up too. Apart from making colleagues or family members jump, or presenting potential privacy issues, that's a waste of energy.

"Control of a computer system in a power-down state," a newly-granted US Patent, proposes being able to make a remote Mac -- or any device -- perform tasks, but without wasting energy. In some cases, that could be energy that the device simply does not have.

"Computer systems in use today commonly have a network interface that allows either wired or wireless communication with other devices or systems," says the patent. "Such communication may be performed in response to input received from a user physically operating the computer system, as well as to input received remotely."

"The latter functionality may allow, for example, for a remote user to be able to cause the computer system to play a sound, which may facilitate locating the computer system," it continues.

If a device is small enough to lose, it's also going to have a comparatively small battery. So Apple's idea could get a sleeping device to do something minimal with its remaining battery power.

The aim goes further, though, with Apple's plan to have devices effectively stay asleep, and yet run substantial tasks.

"Exemplary tasks performed in the power-down state include uploading one or more files to a remote computer system," says the patent, "downloading one or more files from a remote computer system, deleting one or more files from the computer system, accessing input/output devices, disabling the computer system, and performing a memory check on the computer system."

Detail from the patent's block diagrams showing an example series of steps a system could use
Detail from the patent's block diagrams showing an example series of steps a system could use


It means that a device could run as a server that's constantly able to respond but isn't constantly powered up from sleep. This would make it simple, for instance, to run an Apple Mail server, and take advantage of the Mac's better email rules, without having to keep it fully powered up constantly.

The business about being able to perform "a memory check on the computer system," would help with a longstanding issue with Macs. Apple's OS X and now macOS feature built-in maintenance scripts that run in the background, but they tend to run overnight. And many people switch off their Macs overnight.

So while you can't stop people if they want to switch off, if you can get them to leave the Mac asleep, this method would wake it enough to perform these useful background maintenance tasks.

The patent is credited to Timothy R. Paaske, and Josh P. de Cesare. The former's many previous patents include related ones to do with power management, while the latter is listed on ones to do with waking devices.

While the patent appears to be referring to potential future Apple devices, certain current ones have already implemented what could be a subset of the idea. Apple's Power Nap feature lets certain models of MacBook Air and MacBook Pro carry out iCloud syncing and Time Machine backups while in a low-power mode.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 10
    Not for me thank you very much. I disable WiFi when I finish using my MacBook for the day. I don't want any [redacted] external party accessing my kit while I'm asleep. As for applying updates... Nope, not going there. I apply them at times am able to make sure that I have a full backup done and locked in the fire safe before allowing an update. All I hope is that like Siri, I can disable this and never let it see the light of day on my machines. Better still, send it to the wastebasket.
  • Reply 2 of 10
    Seems a good news for hackers 
  • Reply 3 of 10
    rcfarcfa Posts: 1,077member
    great! now viruses and spyware can run without potentially alerting the victims...

  • Reply 4 of 10
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 11,574member
    Not for me thank you very much. I disable WiFi when I finish using my MacBook for the day. I don't want any [redacted] external party accessing my kit while I'm asleep.
    Wait...You're worried that external actors will be able to access your MBP when it's lid-down sleeping, so you manually disable your wifi each & every session? What prompted this fear, specifically? I don't think that's possible. Power Nap is a limited set of outbound features.
    edited August 2020 macplusplusfastasleepwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 10
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 11,574member

    rcfa said:
    great! now viruses and spyware can run without potentially alerting the victims...
    What macOS viruses?
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 10
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 33,408member
    As more Apple devices become basically invisible to users (embedded in Glasses, etc.) then they’ll be performing more tasks invisibly and in the background. Makes sense that they anticipate this transition.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 10
    This should not be a patent. Back when I owned Macs with separate monitors, I could manually switch the monitor off and not be bothered by network access to a machine lighting up the screen. I have always been dumbfounded that Apple did not offer a software switch that performed the same task for any machines with built-in monitors.

    "But now it's on a computer!" is not a high enough bar. "But now it's on a battery-powered device!" - same thing.
  • Reply 8 of 10
    As more Apple devices become basically invisible to users (embedded in Glasses, etc.) then they’ll be performing more tasks invisibly and in the background. Makes sense that they anticipate this transition.
    All this stuff would be awesome if we still lived in the halcyon days when geeks were building computer for a bright new future.  And while we’ve reaped some pretty great stuff over the years, the ever growing profile of attack vectors on our privacy/security can’t be dismissed.  So many of the digital inventions I’ve wished for over the years are sadly just too risky to actually use (from privacy/security standpoint).  I would trust an Apple product over all others but it would be naive to believe our Apple kit is impervious to attacks.  It doesn’t help matters when they implement otherwise rational systems as outline in this article.  It’s gotta be okay to pull the power cord or turn the power off and trust that NOTHING is going on inside the device.
  • Reply 9 of 10
    dewmedewme Posts: 3,818member
    These sort of power saving schemes have long been used in remote telemetry units that have limited energy budgets or energy availability cycles tied to something like wind or solar. It makes sense in those applications to be able to perform some level of tasking in sleep states, if only to queue up messages for later transfer when more energy is available. For interactive computing, it's more of a stretch to see where these strategies make sense. One potential use I can think of would be to trigger a device to periodically broadcast a heartbeat or "phone-home" beacon if the device has been alerted to the fact that it has been misplaced or stolen. At some point, say when energy harvesting becomes more practical, it's not out of the question to envision SOME devices that are never truly offline unless some non-standard or extraordinary method of shutting them off is initiated, i.e., something beyond flipping off the power switch. Hey, maybe Apple Tags will use a variation of this type of capability.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 10
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 33,408member
    This should not be a patent. Back when I owned Macs with separate monitors, I could manually switch the monitor off and not be bothered by network access to a machine lighting up the screen. I have always been dumbfounded that Apple did not offer a software switch that performed the same task for any machines with built-in monitors.

    "But now it's on a computer!" is not a high enough bar. "But now it's on a battery-powered device!" - same thing.
    It is not the same. When computers become things which are embedded in our brains, there will be another patent.
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