Why Not a Location-Aware Laptop?


ScreenshotPretty much any new phone these days can tell you where you are, from a combination of GPS and cell phone tower triangulation. And you can even buy this technology outside of phones: AnyTrack will sell you devices that keep track of where they are and can be contacted through the cell network to get their current position. So why don’t we have this technology for laptop computers?

Judging by the AnyTrack site, such a capability might add 2 or 3 ounces to the weight of your next high-end laptop, and a few hundred dollars in cost. Personally, I’ve been through laptop theft once, and we’ve covered the fact that it’s a huge problem. Imagine a laptop that you could dial up and find out where it was, physically. I’d pay the extra for that, just like I pay for AppleCare now; my data is worth the insurance. How about yours?


Dave Malkus

I just want my laptop to know what time zone it’s in, for the purpose of setting its own clock when I travel. This must be possible in the current technological environment. Maybe not with GPS but whatever — there’s a lot of whatever out there.


Hi Mike:

Thanks for the mention. Hope you don’t mind if I respond to a couple of the points in comments:

It’s true that conventional GPS does not work indoors but our device is also equipped with cellular so that it can be located indoors.

GPS is a receive only signal; our device sends info via cellular.

Battery life is influenced by a number of factors, including how many times a locate is requested. The intervals at which it transmits its location can be adjusted to preserve battery life.


Here is the reason that it hasn’t come out yet for laptops.

1st – GPS does not work inside buildings so once your laptop goes indoors, no more signal. Plus GPS is a receive only signal, it does not send.

2nd – Battery life – Say you get GPS and a cell phone triangulation put into your laptop..the signal would have to send constantly for it to be effective and the battery life would be about 2 hrs ..so once the battery is dead, no more signal.

The Gadget track and Lojack for laptops are ok but it requires the laptops hit the internet. Most good thieves wipe the hard drive as soon as they steal the laptop. Lojack is in the Bios of some units (not all) and if you try to add it after the fact it will be easily wiped.

Currently it is possible to have a commercially available system for tracking however the cost per unit will be more than the laptop is worth.


I actually heard of a predition at a Gartner Conference that there would be such a thing soon.


Yeah, but how would knowing where the laptop is do you any good toward recovering it? It isn’t like the police have nothing better to do than try and find a lost laptop “somewhere within 500′ of cell tower 46a”

My technique is:
1) never leave it unattended
2) attach a lock when you absolutely must leave it unattended (hotel room or whatever)
3) attach a sticker offering a $350 “no questions asked” reward for the safe return. It is likely to be more money than the fence would give them.

Thankfully, #3 hasn’t been put to the test yet, but it sounds like less hassle than this alternative.

Oh, and “your data?” once the laptop is gone, it needs to be wiped.


There are tracking products available for laptops, although I don’t think they have GPS, unless a manufacturer started installing GPS devices on laptops which would be a good idea. There is GadgetTrak ( http://www.gadgettrak.com ) which has software for laptops and even mobile phones but it is not GPS. I like their Mac solution with a camera that captures video of the thief.

It will be interesting to see as more laptops access the web via EvDo wireless cards and have things like GPS built into them what anti theft and tracking abilites will be available in the future.

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