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Find a Lost Device

Losing a digital device can be a traumatic experience. While the devices themselves are expensive to replace, the information on them is all too often irreplaceable. Fortunately, the same technology that makes these devices so useful can also be turned toward bringing an errant device home—even if it had only fallen between the couch cushions.

Enabling Find My iPhone/iPad/iPod/Mac

The good news is that most of the devices that you might misplace come with ways of locating themselves. iPhones contain GPS chips, while iPads, iPod touches, and Macs can all locate themselves based on nearby Wi-Fi networks.

To take advantage of this feature, you’ll need to activate Find My iPhone (or iPad, iPod, or Mac, depending on which device you’re using), the service that reports in on the devices’ locations (4.37). On iOS, this is in Settings > iCloud; on OS X, the service is called Find My Mac and is located in the iCloud preference pane of System Preferences (4.38).

4.37

4.37 Activating Find My Mac in Yosemite

4.38

4.38 Activating Find My iPhone in iOS

When you activate the service, you’re asked to allow the device’s location to be reported via the service; tap or click Allow. (If you enabled Find My [Device] when you set up the device, it’s already running.)

iOS devices also have one additional option once the service is activated: Send Last Location. When your device’s battery runs low, it’ll send its last known location to Apple’s servers—that way you should be able to locate your device even if it’s out of juice.

Finding a Device

The most important thing to do when you lose a device is stay calm. As soon as possible, try to access the Find My iPhone service and locate your device.

If you have an iOS device available—either yours or somebody else’s—use Apple’s free Find My iPhone app to locate your errant gadget. (Don’t be fooled by the name: It’ll help you locate iPads, iPods, and Macs too, as long as you’ve followed the above steps to enable the service on those devices.)

  1. Launch the Find My iPhone app, and enter the iCloud account and password with which the missing device is associated. (On somebody else’s device, you may need to tap the Sign Out button and sign in with your iCloud account.) You’ll see a map and, if you have more than one machine registered with the service, a list of all the available Macs and iOS devices, along with when their location was last reported (4.39). By default, their locations are shown on the map.

    4.39

    4.39 It’s right there. I’m pointing right at it.

  2. Select any single device to see just that device’s location and status.

Once you select a device, you have a number of options.

  • To quickly plot driving directions via the Maps app, tap the car icon at the bottom left of the map.
  • Tap Actions to bring up a toolbar of other options, including Play Sound (which works even if the device in question is muted), the ability to erase the device, and either activating Lost Mode (for an iOS device) or locking the machine (for a Mac) (4.40). Play Sound is usually sufficient for us to find where the device has run off to.

    4.40

    4.40 Options for finding a lost device

If you don’t have an iOS device handy but do have a computer, you can perform all of these functions from Apple’s iCloud Web site. Just go to www.icloud.com, enter your username and password, and select the Find My iPhone icon. You’ll find the same options as you would have on an iOS device (4.41).

4.41

4.41 Find My iPhone at iCloud.com

Lost Mode

If you’ve truly misplaced your iOS device or suspect that it may have been stolen, activating Lost Mode can help you track it, as well as lock it so that it’s inaccessible. Use the Find My iPhone app or iCloud Web site to turn Lost Mode on.

Once you’ve activated it, you can optionally enter a phone number, which is displayed on the iPad. (If it’s your iPhone that you’ve misplaced, remember that you’ll want to use another phone number, such a friend’s or family member’s.) You’ll also be asked to enter a message that’s shown along with the number (4.42, on the next page).

4.42

4.42 Lost Mode

Once you tap Done, your iOS device is placed into Lost Mode: The device is immediately locked if it’s currently active, and the lock screen permanently displays the message you entered, along with the phone number you provided (4.43, on the next page). If the lost device is an iPhone, a Call button on the lock screen lets someone quickly contact you at the number you specified.

4.43

4.43 Not all who wander are lost—except this iPad, which is clearly lost. Please help it find its way home.

While in Lost Mode, your device’s movements are also tracked and reported in the Find My iPhone app and Web site. Whenever its location is updated, an email is sent to your address with the last known location.

You can update the phone number or message by selecting the device in Find My iPhone and tapping Lost Mode again—you can also use that screen to turn off Lost Mode once your device has been located. Unlocking an iOS device with your passcode or via Touch ID automatically terminates Lost Mode.

Tip If you suspect your device was stolen, and you locate it on the map, don’t attempt to retrieve it yourself. Call the police. Security also applies to keeping yourself out of harm’s way.

Lock Your Mac

Much like Lost Mode, locking your Mac provides a way to prevent anybody from using your computer if it’s misplaced. You can activate it once you’ve selected a Mac in Find My iPhone on an iOS device or on the Web (4.44).

4.44

4.44 Locking a Mac remotely

When you lock your Mac remotely, you’re asked to enter and confirm a four-digit code, as well as provide a message that is shown on the Mac. Once you’ve done that and locked the Mac, the lost computer is restarted and you’re sent an email notifying you that the computer has been locked to a passcode—the passcode itself, however, is not provided, so make sure it’s one you remember or stored in a secure location.

Once the Mac restarts, you have to enter the code you created before you can log in; entering the pin will unlock the Mac. Keep in mind, however, that if your disk is not encrypted with FileVault, someone could boot the machine from an external drive to get access to that information.

Erase Device

If there’s really no hope of recovering a lost device, you may want to consider erasing it, which ensures that any information stored is inaccessible. Be aware that erasing a device is irreversible, and once you do so, you won’t be able to play a sound, lock it, put it in Lost Mode, or locate it via Find My iPhone (4.45).

4.45

4.45 Erasing a lost iPhone

In theory, erasing your device shouldn’t be too much of a concern, as long as you have a current backup, either via iCloud Backup or iTunes for iOS devices, or Time Machine or one of the many other third-party solutions on the Mac. You do have a backup, don’t you? (See Chapter 6.)

Selecting a device and choosing Erase Device prompts you for your Apple ID password and, as with Lost Mode or locking your Mac, also asks for a phone number and a message that will be displayed on the device after it’s erased. In the case of your Mac, you’ll also be asked to create a passcode that will be needed to unlock it.

How soon the erase takes effect depends on whether the device is currently online; if it is, the remote wipe starts working immediately. Otherwise, erasure begins the next time the device connects to the Internet. The process of erasing can also take some time: a Mac, for example, can take up to a day.

If you erase a device with cellular service, keep in mind that you will likely want to notify your service provider to suspend the device, just in case someone attempts to use it.

Third-Party Tools

Find My iPhone can only do so much. If you’re looking for a tool to help track down the person who stole your device, you may wish to consider a third-party option.

Orbicule’s Undercover (www.orbicule.com) not only helps you locate a stolen Mac, but it can also use your computer’s built-in camera to take and send pictures, perhaps helping you locate or identify the perpetrator, as well as logging their keystrokes and taking periodic screenshots.

Hidden (www.hiddenapp.com) is another OS X app that, similar to Undercover, can track your stolen Mac, take photos with the camera, snap screenshots, log keystrokes, and let you remotely wipe your computer. It also allows you send messages that your computer will speak aloud, create a reverse secure connection, and more.

Prey Anti Theft (preyproject.com), which runs on both iOS or OS X, is a free option for up to three of your devices. It helps you locate your missing device, as well as providing you with information about the device’s use.

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