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Ask Deemable Tech: Finding Your Lost Smartphone

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Emily asks, "My coworker lost her iPhone at work the other day. She was in a panic because she thought that someone had stolen it. Fortunately, someone turned it in later the next day. I thought I heard there was some way to find an iPhone if you lost it? Is there a way, and if so, how does it work?"

Thanks for your question Emily, and you’re right, there is a way. Any iOS device (iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad) that is running iOS 4.2 or higher has a feature called “Find My iPhone”. With Find My iPhone, you can see on a map where your iPhone is, remotely lock the phone with a pin number and send a message to your iPhone that will show on the screen like, “Hey! I lost my iPhone! Call me at this other number if you find it!” You can also make an alarm go off on your iPhone that’s pretty loud, even if your ringer is on silent. And, in case you are a spy or secret agent, you can wipe your phone and delete everything on it.

To find out if you have Find My iPhone setup, open the Settings app. Then, tap on iCloud (which is right under General at the bottom of the first screen). Then, scroll down until you see the listing for Find My iPhone. Make sure that the switch is turned on.

Now, here’s the fun part. Go to iCloud.com on a computer and sign in to the website with your Apple ID. That’s the email address and password that you enter when you purchase something from iTunes or the App Store. Once the page loads, click on the Find My iPhone icon. The web page will open to a map showing a dot where your iPhone is. Click on the dot to get a menu to play a sound on your phone, put it in “lost mode”, and erase your iPhone.

You can also go to someone else’s iOS device and download the free Find My iPhone app and login with your Apple ID account and do the same thing.

So, if you actually lose your iPhone, immediately go to iCloud.com, or find a friend that has an iOS device and download the Find My iPhone app on their device. Login to the website or app, then put your iPhone in Lost Mode and lock your iPhone. Make sure to remember your pin. Do this regardless of whether you think it was actually stolen or not. A smart criminal might remember to turn off Find My iPhone, and an innocent person might not be able to figure out who you are or how to get the phone back to you.

Then, if you suspect that you just lost your phone, click “Play Sound” and send a beep to your iPhone. Hopefully, someone will notice it and return it to you. If that doesn’t work, or if you know your iPhone has been stolen, call the police and tell them where the iPhone is. Then, of course, just, let them do their job.

There’s something similar for you Android users out there. Since Android doesn’t have a baked-in feature like Find My iPhone, you’ll need to download an app called “Where’s My Droid” in Google Play that does pretty much the same thing. With the free, full version of Where’s My Droid, you can send a text message to your phone with a special activation word that will make the phone ring at full volume and provide your phone’s location. You can also go to WheresMyDroid.com and use all of the features there.

With the paid, pro version, you can also remote lock the phone, and remote wipe the device and/or the SD card.

Also, if you lose your Android and you haven’t already installed Where’s My Droid, there is a lite version that you can actually install remotely just by going to WheresMyDroid.com. That version is more limited, but you can still make the phone ring at full volume and get the GPS location of the phone.

For more great tech advice, listen to Deemable Tech's hour-long show on Deemable.com.

Ray Hollister can be reached at rhollister@wjct.org, 904-358-6341 or on Twitter at @rayhollister.
Tom Braun is a writer living in Jacksonville, Florida. In addition to writing about tech and co-hosting WJCT’s Deemable Tech, he writes content for websites and blogs, ghostwrites ebooks, writes short fiction and has written a woefully unpublished dystopian young adult novel that is no doubt his ticket to fame and fortune. Before realizing his true calling as a writer, Tom worked for over a decade as a software developer. He enjoys board games and traveling and once spent a year living in The Netherlands.