Find Out About “Find My iPhone”

| Ted Landau's User Friendly View

One of the niftiest features in iPhone OS 3.0 is Find My iPhone. If you ever lose track of your iPhone, or believe it’s been stolen, Find My iPhone offers your best shot at either recovering the phone or at least preventing others from accessing data on it. An Apple Web page provides a brief overview of how Find My iPhone works. This FAQ delves deeper, offering answers to most of the common questions about the new feature.

Does Find My iPhone work only on the new iPhone 3G S? Or will it work on older iPhones as well?</p>

 

It works on all iPhones, if they’ve been updated to iPhone OS 3.0. The only limitation is that you need a MobileMe account.

Does it work with iPod touches as well?

Yup. Despite its name, Find My iPhone works with iPod touches. With the same restrictions as just cited for the iPhone.

There is one additional limitation for iPod touches, regarding how and when you can connect to it from Find My iPhone. I’ll get to that a bit later.

I’ve updated my iPhone to OS 3.0. Is it automatically ready for Find My iPhone? Or do I have to tweak some settings?

 

If you already have a MobileMe account and have it set up on your iPhone, chances are good that your phone needs no further tweaking. Otherwise, here is a list of what you may need to do:

  • Add your MobileMe account to your iPhone. Go to Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars, tap Add Account and select to add MobileMe.
  • Make sure that Find my iPhone is enabled. From your MobileMe account settings screen, locate the Find My iPhone item. Make sure it is ON. It should be ON by default. [See Figure]

 

  • Make sure you have Push enabled. From Settings > Mail, Contacts, Calendars, tap Fetch New Data. Make sure Push is set to ON.

Find My iPhone

Note: There is an additional me.com Push option in Fetch New Data > Advanced. In my testing, this setting did not affect Find My iPhone. Find My iPhone worked whether this was set to Push or not.

Suppose I’ve lost my iPhone. How do I use Find My iPhone to help me get it back?

 

Launch Safari (or whatever other Web browser you use) on your Mac. Next:

  1. Log in to your MobileMe account. 
  2. In the toolbar, click the Account icon (it’s the one with the head-and-shoulders shadow). You may be asked to re-log in at this point; do so. 
  3. From the column on the left, click Find My iPhone.

You should now be at the Find My iPhone page. MobileMe immediately attempts to find your phone and show its location on a map. If it succeeds, a blue circle indicates its approximate location. As with the Maps app on the iPhone, the smaller the circle, the more accurate the estimate.

If you believe your iPhone is “on the move,” you can click the Update Location button to determine its most recent location.

This Map feature may be all that you need to recover your phone. For example, if the map shows that the phone is at your friend’s house, where you had dinner earlier, your work is hopefully done.

I just get a message where the map should be, saying “Location is not available.” What’s going on?

If you glance to the left, you should see the name of your device. Underneath the name, it will likely say “Offline.” Not good! You want it to say “Online.” [See Figure]

 

For the iPhone to be Online, it must be connected to the Internet. The connection can be via EDGE, 3G, or Wi-Fi. It doesn’t matter. The iPhone even stays connected to the Internet when the device is asleep (via EDGE or 3G). So chances are good it will be online at any given moment.

Possible reasons for the iPhone being offline include:

  • The iPhone is in a No Service area, with no EDGE or 3G network accessible, and is also not connected to a Wi-Fi network.
  • The iPhone is powered off.
  • Network access has been deliberately disabled, typically by turning on Airplane Mode.

I have an iPod touch. It only supports an Internet connection via Wi-Fi. How does that affect Find My iPhone?

Negatively. Unless the iPod touch was connected to a Wi-Fi network when it was lost, has automatically joined a known network, or has been connected to Wi-Fi by someone who has found your touch, it is probably not connected to the Internet at the moment. So you won’t be able to use Find My iPhone.

Similarly, if the iPod touch is in sleep mode, it loses its Wi-Fi connection. I found one exception here: If your iPod touch is connected to a power source (such as your Mac or a wall outlet) when connected to a Wi-Fi network, it maintains the connection while asleep.

Overall, Find My iPhone is far less likely to be helpful for an iPod touch than for an iPhone.

Wait a minute! When I went to Find My iPhone, my device was not listed, neither as online nor offline. There’s nothing on the page at all. What gives?

 

Not to worry. This happens if Find My iPhone has never previously detected your device and the device is currently offline. It makes sense when you think about it. There is no way that Find My iPhone can know your device exists if it has never been detected even once.

After your device is found online the first time, it will be remembered by Find My iPhone for future visits. That is, if the device is later inaccessible, it will be listed as offline, but it will still be listed.

Find My iPhone says my device is offline. But it is still showing the device’s location on a map. How can that be?

 

Once a map has been displayed, it will continue to display the device’s last known location — even if the device goes offline. You can tell how “old” a given map is by looking at the time and date listed below.

At some later point, the map display may revert back to the “Location is not available” message. Until then, you at least have possibly relevant information about where your device may be.

Note: When your device is offline, the Update Location button is grayed out and inaccessible.

I believe my device may have just gone offline. But Find My iPhone still lists it as online. How do I get Find My iPhone to update to the correct status?

 

I have found Find My iPhone to be a bit quirky here. For example, after going to the Find My iPhone page and seeing my iPhone listed as Online, I powered off my iPhone. The phone continued to be listed as Online. Next, I clicked the Update Location button. Find My iPhone was, of course, not able to update the location. Still, it mistakenly continued to list my iPhone as Online.

One way to get Find My iPhone to update a device’s status correctly is to reload the page. When you do, you will be taken back to the main Account page. Click Find My iPhone again. Hopefully, all is now well. If even that doesn’t seem to do the trick, log out of MobileMe altogether. Log back in and start over.

These same tricks, of course, work for a device listed as offline that may now be online instead.

I have more than one iPhone/iPod touch. Will Find My iPhone list multiple devices?

 

Yes. Each detected device is listed separately. Just scroll down the page to find the particular device you want.

In addition to the Map feature, I see a “Display a Message” button. What’s that?

This sends a message to your iPhone or iPod touch. This can be useful if you believe that a honest person has found your iPhone but is unsure how to contact you. You can send a message with your home number for the person to call. Or any other useful contact information.

You may be saying: “But couldn’t I just call my iPhone and have the person answer the phone?” Yes. Except that won’t work for an iPod touch, as it has no phone. Also, the message stays on the screen indefinitely. So it will be there whenever the phone is found, which is better than hoping that someone happens to be around just when you call.

There is also an option to play a sound for two minutes when you send a message. This can alert someone nearby to the presence of your phone, so they find it and pick it up. Again, you may be asking: “How is that better than calling the iPhone so that it rings?” It’s better in several ways: First, the sound lasts for two minutes, which is typically longer than the phone will ring. Second, it plays the sound even if the device’s ring/silent switch is set to silent (although not if the Volume has been set to its lowest level). And third, it works with a second generation iPod touch (which has speakers but no phone).

The person with your device can turn off the sound before the two minutes are up simply by unlocking the phone (if necessary) and tapping the Okay button in the Important Message box that will be on the screen.

Okay. So how do I send a message?

 

Here’s how:

  1. Click the Display a Message button. From the window that pops up, enter your message text (up to 160 characters). 
  2. Optionally, enable the checkbox in the message window to “Play a sound for 2 minutes with this message.” 
  3. Click Send. After sending the message, if the iPhone is online, it should typically appear on the iPhone within seconds. A confirming copy of the message is also sent as email to your MobileMe account.

If your iPhone or iPod touch is offline when the message is sent, the message is held by MobileMe and will be delivered about a minute or so after the device comes back online.

If you forgot to enable Push on your iPhone or iPod touch, you won’t be able to send a message. Instead, Find My iPhone will reply with an “Unable to process your request” error.

What about the Remote Wipe option on the Find My iPhone page?

 

This is Find My iPhone’s nuclear option. If you suspect that your iPhone has been stolen, or that no effort will be made to return it for whatever reason, you can use Remote Wipe to erase all the data on your iPhone. The idea here is to protect the security of any confidential information.

To do a Remote Wipe:

  1. If you have more than one device listed on Find My iPhone, make sure you select the device that is lost. You don’t want to erase the data from a device that is currently in your pocket! 
  2. Click the Remote Wipe button. A confirmation dialog pops up. If you click the Erase All Data button, the deed is done and there is no undoing it.

If you should later get the device back, you can still restore everything by re-syncing the device in iTunes.

How do I decide when to use Remote Wipe vs. Display a Message?

 

This is probably the biggest dilemma of Find My iPhone.

After you use Remote Wipe, you lose all access to the device. The map no longer shows a location and you can no longer send a message to the device.

However, if you delay using Remote Wipe, hoping to locate the device, your confidential data may be compromised in the interim. A thief could even enable Airplane mode, so that a Remote Wipe is not possible, while he browses through your data at his leisure.

The best course of action depends on the situation. For example, if there is no information on your phone that you would cause problems if it fell into the “wrong hands,” you may decide to forget about a Remote Wipe. Otherwise, you have to make a best guess as to what happened to your device. If, for example, you think it fell out of your pocket while at a restaurant, I’d probably send a message, hoping whoever found it will contact you. If, instead, you are pretty sure that the device was stolen from your backpack, I’d go for the remote wipe.

I have more questions. Where can I go?

 

Additional troubleshooting advice can be found in this Apple Knowledge Base article. Otherwise, you can always send me your questions. I’ll answer them if I can.

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