How to track a lost smartphone

In iOS 7, this isn’t necessary, since you can’t turn off the function without knowing both the Apple ID it’s locked to and the relevant password. This is a far more sensible mode of operation, although some people complain that it only lets you lock the device to the primary Apple ID associated with it.

How to track a lost smartphone

However, I doubt this limitation will affect many people, and I much prefer the simplicity and security of the new system.

Apple

I’ve discovered a silly problem with Apple’s device tracker, though. When it locates a lost device, it sends you an email with a map and details of where and when your device was found. But, in typical Apple style, it’s given in Californian time, with no attempt made to localise the time zone based on your location. In fact, there’s nothing even to indicate it’s given in Pacific Time.

So you might receive an email saying your device was spotted at a certain location eight hours ago and not realise the alert may have been generated only a few seconds ago. That’s daft, since there are only two settings in iCloud – your language and your time zone. Come on, Apple, you can do better.

Help for Windows Phone

There are similar facilities for Windows Phone users, but in this case all tracking and erasing is carried out via www.windowsphone.com. You won’t need to enable the functionality on your handset, since it’s turned on by default, but there are a couple of options you can – and probably should – set.

The first of these saves the device’s location every few hours, so you can see its last location after its battery runs out. The second option governs the delivery of tracking commands to the handset.

By default, this is via text message, which has certain advantages (SMS is a store-and-forward service, so even if your “lock my phone” command doesn’t get through immediately, it might do so later), but you can change it to employ push messages, which have their own advantages (they’re faster, and work over Wi-Fi, even if the SIM has been removed or disabled).

Unfortunately, Microsoft has seen fit to incorporate this functionality into Windows Phone only; it does nothing to protect laptop users by adding the same function to Windows 8 (not even the tablet-centric RT version).

Android assistance

Arriving very late to the party is Google’s Android OS. Until recently, you had to install a third-party app to track a lost Android phone or tablet, but Google has finally added an MDM tool to the Android ecosystem.

As with Microsoft, this is for mobiles only; if you’re running a Chromebook, you’ll have to find an alternative (there are several available in the Chrome store).

To get the most out of Google’s system, some configuring will be required, which will involve launching Settings and finding the option to activate Android Device Manager (the location of which differs depending on the version).

You’ll probably find “Remotely locate this device” already ticked, but you’ll need to make sure “Access my location”, which may be in yet another place, is also enabled.

While in Android Device Manager, you should also tick “Allow remote lock and factory reset”, which might have negligible impact on battery life. From any device with a web browser, go to www.google.com/android/devicemanager.

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