Lost Your Fitbit? Use Your iPhone to Track it Down

You can use Find My iPhone to track down your misplaced iPhone, but what about Bluetooth devices that don't offer a similar feature, like your Fitbit? You can track that down, too, with the help of your iPhone and a little luck. Read on to learn how.

Tracking down lost Bluetooth devices with your iPhone

I started the day with my Fitbit One in its sleep band, and didn't realize until a couple hours later I was still wearing the wristband, but my tracker was nowhere to be found. Most of that time was spent at my desk, but I had also been pretty much everywhere else in my place, and I took out the trash. That's a lot of ground to cover looking for something as small as a Fitbit fitness tracker.

Finding something so small can be pretty intimidating, but with a little planning and logic, there's a chance of success. Yes, I found my Fitbit, but not at all where I expected. Without some planning ahead of time, I never would've tracked it down.

It's really all about reducing the variables to trim down your search area. I started with some trial and error to figure out where my Fitbit wasn't.

I started by seeing if I could sync my Fitbit. The device specifications say you need to be within 15 feet for the Bluetooth connection to kick in and transfer data. Sitting at my desk where I spend most of my time gave me a successful sync, so I had a pretty good idea where to start looking. Unfortunately, my desk is along an exterior wall, so I couldn't rule out the route through the yard to drop off the trash.

I could sync even at the end of the yard farthest from my desk, but not beyond that. Based on the documented Fitbit sync range, that meant mine was most likely in the grass. Searching my route didn't turn up anything, so I went back inside to see where else I could sync. I figured once I was out of range again, I'd be closer to narrowing down exactly where to look.

And then I found a problem: I could sync from everywhere indoors. That meant either my Fitbit was at my desk, or its sync range was actually greater than 15 feet. Since I was certain my Fitbit wasn't at my desk, I needed something that would give me more Signal strength information.

One of my Twitter followers suggested I try BTLExplorer for the iPhone. It's a free app intended for testing Bluetooth devices, but it had just what I needed: the ability to track actual signal strength. Thanks for the tip, @jackbrewster!

Tracking down my Fitbit. -72 dBm is close, but still not there.Tracking down my Fitbit. -72 dBm is close, but still not there.

I was able to quickly figure out that my Fitbit really wasn't outdoors because the signal strength was too weak even though I was able to sync, so back indoors I went. Once inside, I stood in the center and corners of each room and checked the signal strength.

The higher the value, the better the signal. Outdoors, I was seeing around -95 dBm and indoors the signal jumped up between -88 dBm and -69 dBm until I got much closer.

Thanks to the signal strength feature in BTExplorer, I eliminated half of my space -- and it's all about reducing by halves when looking for something you can't find: First, I ruled out the yard, so I only had half as much space to search. Next I ruled out half of my indoors space.

Next, came the really meticulous part: walking a grid in each room looking for the strongest signal points. I finally narrowed my search to two rooms, and a quick jaunt back outside to check signal strength showed my Fitbit had to be in my bedroom.

As you narrow down your search area, you increase your search time because you move slower and look closer at every detail. It took about half an hour to focus my search on one quarter of the room.

-50 dBm means I'm really close.-50 dBm means I'm really close.

Unfortunately, the Fitbit One doesn't have a speaker, but it does have a vibrating alarm function. I set an alarm so I could listen for the vibrating motor and after about ten more minutes found my Fitbit along the wall behind a box. Total time spent Fitbit hunting: about two hours.

My Bluetooth signal strength when I was about a foot away from my Fitbit jumped to about -50 dBM, and when I was only inches away it climbed up over -40 dBm.

Here's the TL;DR version:

  • You need to have an idea where to start your search, so retrace your steps.
  • Always search in a grid pattern. Looking randomly almost always leads to frustration.
  • Keep working to reduce your search area by half, then reduce that area by half.
  • Use tools to make your search easier. In my case, it was a Bluetooth signal strength app.
  • If you can remotely trigger a noise on the lost device, do.

Had this been another Bluetooth device, like a headset or stylus, I could've used the same technique to track it down, too.

My patience saved me the $100 of buying a new Fitbit, and the pain of finding it on the floor later. Too bad I wasn't able to track all the steps I took hunting it down.

[Some image elements courtesy Shutterstock]