Do you love your phone? Do you need your phone? I know I do. I can’t remember how I functioned before I had Wikipedia and a dictionary in my pocket. If you feel the same, you’ve undoubtedly experienced, at least once, a moment of panic when you couldn’t find your phone. For your sake, I hope that’s all it was – a moment – and that you’ve never had to deal with the major hassle of recovering a stolen phone, or just losing one permanently.
Apple began building a kill switch into their products in September of 2013, a year when over 3 million smartphones were stolen in the US. One year later, iPhone theft was down 19% in New York, 24% in London, and a truly impressive 38% in San Francisco. Some brave types have even hunted down their stolen phones on their own, using the tracking apps. Taking a couple of minutes to set up one of these apps can save you a boatload of trouble later on. Here’s our pick of the litter.
- Android (any smartphones and tablets not made by Apple) – As long as you’ve got a Google account set up on your phone, and the phone is on and connected to the internet, Android Device Manager will take care of you. You don’t even need to download it; it already lives in your phone. In the Google Settings app, allow ADM to locate your phone (this will already be turned on unless you’ve messed with it before), and allow it to lock your phone and erase data (this won’t already be on).
To find your phone once it’s lost, you can access ADM on a computer or someone else’s phone, and pinpoint the position of your wandering device. If you know it’s nearby, you can set it to ring at full volume for 5 minutes while you search for it. If it’s farther away than under the bed, you can send a recovery text message to the person who may have found your phone (“Dude…give it back or I will make you rue the day you were born” would work well). And if you’re concerned about theft and/or protecting sensitive information, you can also lock it to prevent any unauthorized access, and as a last resort, completely erase your data.
If your Android goes missing before you get the chance to configure the Device Manager, don’t fret. Plan B can be found in the Google Play store, and installed remotely via your Gmail address. Once set up, Plan B emails you every ten minutes with your phone’s whereabouts. You may need to use someone else’s cell to text “locate” to your phone, which will email you with its current location. There are a number of other (paid) apps that perform similar functions, but unless you’re seriously worried about security, the free one will do the trick.
- iOS (anything made by Apple – iPhones, iPads, iPod Touches, MacBooks) – No installation required here, either. Find My iPhone is already on your phone, iPad, or iPod. Just launch the Settings app, log into iCloud, and turn on Find My iPhone. (If you’re using it to find your MacBook, iCloud lives in System Preferences.)
FMi has the same features and limitations as ADM – the device must be turned on and connected to the internet for it to function. You can access it remotely from another computer or phone and make it ring, lock, erase data, or send a recovery message.
I admit I may have had a little too much fun doing the research for this article. When my boss walked in on me hiding behind a door and yelling “Marco!” she was kind enough to await an explanation (“It’s an app for finding a lost phone”) rather than just sending me to the funny farm. I didn’t have much luck with the $0.99 Marco Polo app – turns out you have to leave it running at all times in order for it to work – but the concept (you call out “Marco,” and the phone that fell behind a desk or slid between two couch cushions responds “Polo” [or “Yes, master,” or “Over here”]) is a nifty one.
Find My iPhone, on the other hand, took just a moment to set up, another moment to access online, and with one click, my phone was chiming loudly enough to be heard from a few rooms away (or under the bed or behind the toilet). Piece of cake. Set aside a few minutes of your busy day to find the app that works for you, turn that thing on, and hope that you never need it.