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Lost No More: Find Friends, Family, or Missing Devices with iOS or OS X

Apple's iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch) and Macs can all broadcast their locations, making it easy to locate a friend, share your own location, or pinpoint a device that may be lost or stolen. Jeff Carlson, co-author of The Connected Apple Family: Discover the Rich Apple Ecosystem of the Mac, iPhone, iPad, and AppleTV, acts as your wayfinder to learn about these features.
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Once, while driving to visit my mother in California, I missed the freeway exit that would take me to her house.

My iPhone rang. "So, where are you headed?" asked my mom.

She'd been following my progress throughout the day on her iPad, using the Find My Friends app, and knew right away that I'd gotten off track.

Smartphones like the iPhone not only enable people to communicate; they've introduced new ways for us to find one another. The GPS chip in the iPhone (and cellular-capable iPad) can record and even broadcast its location. That feature makes it possible to share where you are—selectively, to people you choose—and find other folks. It's also extremely helpful when you've lost a device, whether misplaced somewhere in your home or perhaps stolen.

In this article, I share three methods to take advantage of this feature: when communicating via Apple's iMessage service, using Find My Friends to keep tabs on other people (and share your own location), and when attempting to locate a lost device. You can learn more about these features in my book The Connected Apple Family: Discover the Rich Apple Ecosystem of the Mac, iPhone, iPad, and AppleTV, coauthored by Dan Moren.

The Messages app under iOS is used primarily to send text messages via Apple's iMessage service, but it can do more. Starting with iOS 8, you can send your location to a friend in the Messages app—for example, if you're both traveling in the same city.

  1. In the Messages app on an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, start a discussion with the other person, and tap the Details button.
  2. On the Details screen, either tap Send My Current Location or tap Share My Location. Send My Current Location indicates where you are when you send it—a way of saying, "Here I am, getting closer," for example. With either option, a map appears in your conversation, indicating your whereabouts (see Figure 1).
  3. Figure 1 Sharing my current location with a friend.

  4. The other person can tap the map to view it in more detail and even get directions to your location.
  5. If you tapped Share My Location in step 1, the recipient will be able to view where you are for a specified amount of time: one hour, until the end of the day, or indefinitely (see Figure 2). When your friend taps the Details button, your location appears on a map at the top of his or her screen. You can rescind the sharing offer by tapping Stop Sharing My Location.
  6. Figure 2 Allow the other person to track your location for a set amount of time.

The Share My Location feature in Messages is an extension of Apple's Find My Friends app, designed to let you keep tabs on people at any time. (Of course, they must agree to let you follow them.) When you launch the app, people you're following appear on a map (see Figure 3).

Figure 3 My friends, spread out all over.

Sometimes, knowing someone's location isn't as important as knowing when they've arrived or left. In Find My Friends, you can create a "geofence" that alerts you when a friend is on the move. For example, in the scenario earlier, my mother could have set up a geofence that told her when I was within, say, 30 miles of her home. (Although she said she enjoyed watching my near-real-time progress on the map.)

To use this feature, tap the person on the map you want to view, and then tap the Notify Me button. Indicate the notification you want: when the person leaves a location, or arrives at a location. Tapping the Change Location button brings up a map with an adjustable circle around the location; drag the edge to specify the diameter of the "fenced" area (see Figure 4).

Figure 4 When the person leaves or enters the circled area, you receive a notification.

Sometimes the goal isn't to find a person, but rather a device that's lost or potentially stolen. I admit to using this feature fairly often when I know my iPhone or iPad must be in the house somewhere, but I can't find it.

The Find iPhone app locates any devices (including Macs) on which you've enabled the Find My iPhone (or Mac/iPad/iPod touch) feature in the iCloud settings. You can also access the feature by going to in a web browser and signing in using your Apple ID. Often just seeing the location on a map is sufficient; maybe you left your iPad at work, for example (see Figure 5).

Figure 5 Oh, look—it's right there.

If the device seems to be nearby, tap the Play Sound button, which initiates a loud submarine pinging sound—even if your iPhone is set to silent mode.

What if you suspect that some nefarious ne'er-do-well has absconded with your device? Tap the Lost Mode button. When Lost Mode is enabled, the device is locked automatically, You can display a message on the screen, and the device's location is tracked so you can see where it's been.

As a last resort, if you're sure the device has been stolen and you won't see it again, you can tap the Erase button to wipe all your device's data. You may lose the hardware, but at least the thief won't be able to get your personal information. The data on iOS devices is encrypted when you set up a passcode—which you should do on all devices. Triggering the Erase option actually destroys the encryption key, rendering the data unusable. It's a very quick operation. On the off chance that you do recover the device after it's been erased, you can restore your data by syncing with iTunes or your iCloud backup.

The next time you need to find a device, or locate a wayward friend whose innate sense of direction isn't the best, your Apple devices can help. For more real-world advice and detail for making devices work together, check out The Connected Apple Family: Discover the Rich Apple Ecosystem of the Mac, iPhone, iPad, and AppleTV.

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