How to track a lost smartphone

Hardly a week goes by without me seeing a sob story on one of the social networks or forums I frequent about someone having lost their phone.

How to track a lost smartphone

Am I sympathetic? Hardly – many of them are just plain daft. If they had a £500 roll of £20 notes in their pocket they’d be on their guard, walking with one hand firmly clamped around the cash.

But they’re quite happy to place £500’s worth of Cupertino’s finest shiny in their jacket pocket or handbag, or leave it on a pub table while they talk to friends. Frankly, I’m surprised more phones don’t go missing.

For some time, there have been tools available to help you locate a lost phone, display messages on its screen, make it ring and vibrate, change its passcode, lock it down or even wipe all its data.

If they had a £500 roll of £20 notes in their pocket they’d be on their guard, walking with one hand firmly clamped around the cash

In the enterprise space, such tools became prominent with BlackBerry Enterprise Server, or BES. Over the intervening years, however, many other mobile device management (MDM) products have appeared in the enterprise space, along with apps and tools that are aimed at consumers.

Typically, these display the location of your device on a map, although their reliability varies – some products take a position every half hour or so, giving you a rough idea where your phone was, while others report in real-time.

Some work only when your phone’s GPS receiver can see satellites (outdoors or close to a window, for example), while others employ cell-tower triangulation and use known Wi-Fi network locations to home in on a position if GPS isn’t available. Some use your phone’s data connection, while others communicate via SMS.

Find your iPhone

While there are apps in the App Store that let you track your iPhone from your iPad, or vice versa, Apple’s own system is neat. Simply log in to your iCloud account in a web browser; here, you’ll see an icon that says “Find My iPhone” (it also finds iPads, iPod touchs and Macs).

It doesn’t merely find them, either: you can play a sound, which is great for finding phones that have slipped down the back of the sofa or under the car seat; use “lost mode”, which tracks and locks the device; and remotely wipe all its data. You need to set this up, though; if you own a Mac or other iDevice and haven’t done this, I urge you to do it now.

On a Mac, go to System Preferences and click on iCloud. You’ll need to enter your Apple ID, or create one by clicking “Create an Apple ID”, then follow the simple steps. Tick the box beside “Find My Mac”, which will be located towards the bottom of the list, and click “Allow” when you see the dialog requesting permission to track the location of your computer.

To stop a thief from bypassing the system, make sure that your user account requires a password and that automatic login is switched off. If you’re using an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, go to Settings and tap iCloud.

Again, you’ll need to sign in with your Apple ID or follow the steps to create one. Then, turn on “Find My iPhone/iPad/iPod” (the wording will differ depending on which device you’re using); when prompted, confirm your permission to track the device.

It’s crucial that you set a passcode for the device. Also, if you’re running iOS 6 or earlier, you’ll need to turn on “Restrictions” so that a thief can’t switch off the “Find My iDevice” function; do this by going to Settings | General | Restrictions.

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