July 22, 2010 -- A bicycle-riding, would-be San Francisco thief learned the hard way this week that, due to new GPS software, attempting a grab-and-go with the Apple iPhone is probably a no-no.
On Monday, a 31-year-old San Francisco man on a bike allegedly plucked an iPhone out of a woman's hand and then sped away down the street.
Unfortunately for the alleged thief, Horatio Toure, he couldn't have chosen a worse time to pull of his urban caper.
"It probably sounds almost unreal," said David Fonkalsrud, a spokesman for Covia Labs, the company that created the GPS tracking software. "It's almost as if it's a bank robber picking a day to rob a bank when there are five police officers in the branch."
Police Followed GPS Directions to Nab Suspect
The foiled theft took place outside the offices of Fonkalsrud's PR firm, when the woman, a 23-year-old intern, stepped out to test the new technology. The iPhone she carried was loaded with the software, and she walked down the street while Fonkalsrud and Covia Labs president David Kahn watched her movement from a laptop computer.
"We pulled up a Google map, which showed her exact whereabouts. We were tracking her walking down the street, and then she seemed to deviate from the path she indicated she would go," he said. "We were about to call when she burst through the office doors crying and telling us that she had just been mugged by someone on a bike."
For a moment, the group panicked before realizing that the thief didn't stand a chance.
"[We] realized we were still tracking the phone," he said.
They called the police, who dispatched a patrol car immediately. They were able to give the police minute-by-minute descriptions of the alleged thief's location, and the officers apprehended the biker and recovered the phone within about 15 mintues, Fonkalsrud said.
"I actually had an adrenaline rush," said Kahn.
Police: GPS Tracking Devices Could Scare Off Potential Thieves
Khan said the software loaded on the iPhone actually isn't intended to track consumer goods but to help track police and military officers in the field.
"It was too bad the police didn't have our software in their system," he said, adding that the software would have given the officers a compass that could have taken them straight to the thief.
But he said it was amazing that the police scrambled a patrol car so quickly.
Albie Esparza, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Police Department, said Toure was booked on charges of possession of stolen property and grand theft. The case has been turned over to the district attorney's office for prosecution.
"That's pretty effective software, I would say," Esparza said. "Criminals are opportunistic. … But I'm sure even criminals won't take a chance if they know that there's a tracking device."