Tuesday, 15 April 2014

It's finders-beepers for your lost mobile phones

 In the space of two weeks recently we managed to lose not one but three mobile phones.
Actually only two handsets were involved: an iPhone and a Samsung Galaxy S4. But sadly we contrived to lose the S4 twice.
Apple, Samsung and Google all offer "find my phone" services that can hopefully locate a missing device on a GPS-style map and, if for some reason it can't be retrieved, lock it or wipe its contents. But, as we discovered, some of these services work better than others.
The first time the S4 went missing we spent several days ransacking the house, being pretty sure we hadn't taken it out. We tried ringing it, but got no answering ringtone: the sound had been turned down for a recent media conference.
We were, alas, unaware of the Android SMS Alarm app that might have solved the problem. SMS Alarm is activated when you send a text message containing a code word to your phone and an alarm should sound even if the ringtone has been silenced.
Our Galaxy did eventually turn up, safe and sound, stuffed into a deep crevice between two sofa cushions, a position it seemed to be sharing with food crumbs and a few dead insects.
The iPhone was next to disappear. Couldn't be found one morning and, as with the S4, couldn't be located by ringing it, since the sound was turned down.
We tried to locate it using Apple's Find My Device software, installed on a desktop iMac. This is linked to iCloud, a service which stores users' mail, contacts, music, photos and other information on Apple's servers and shares them between multiple Apple devices.
It also contains information that will hopefully let it locate a missing iPhone, iPad or even a Mac.
We clicked on that, and it immediately used mapping services to show the location of two iMacs, a MacBook laptop and an iPad (all as it happened just metres away within the house).
But it couldn't locate the missing iPhone, presumably because it was either turned off, or out of battery life.
We were able to use the service to send the iPhone a message, to be displayed on its screen, saying "This iPhone has been lost" and urging the finder to ring our home phone for a reward.
We rang our telco, Telstra, and suspended the service, thereby preventing a finder from using the phone to make calls at our expense.
Happy ending: the iPhone did turn up three weeks later, stashed in a hideaway pocket in a rain jacket we rarely use.
Meanwhile the Galaxy S4 had disappeared again. We'd had it the night before at a Sydney restaurant. But it wasn't in any of our clothing the next morning.
Had we ever registered the phone with Samsung's Find My Phone service? We weren't sure, but we gave it a try, anyway, using another Samsung device - a Note II phablet - to locate the missing gadget. Bingo. The phone immediately showed up, pinpointed and blinking brightly on a Google map, several kilometres away in a North Sydney office block we had never visited.
No need to call the cops. It was in fact in the office of our host company from the previous evening. An executive had spotted the phone on the floor of the restaurant and, not knowing whose it was, put it into safe keeping.
DoubleClick and the Galaxy were reunited within the hour. Had it been otherwise we could have used the Samsung app to lock the phone or wipe its contents.
In retrospect we were much more impressed by the Samsung finder system than by Apple's, but to be fair, we hadn't given the latter much chance by apparently having turned the iPhone off.
And if we had written off the iPhone and bought a new one, iCloud would have restored all our settings, contacts, music and email in a trice.
The moral of this story is, whenever you buy a new mobile, whatever the make, the very first thing to do is register it for a find-my-phone service. And if you do turn the ringtone down or off, you'd be wise to restore it later.
Samsung's Find My Phone software has been on all Galaxy models since the S3, but users of other Android-powered mobiles can access similar free software.
There's Android Lost and Locate My Droid, both available on the Google Play Store.
These, like the Apple software, need to be installed in advance. If you haven't installed such software and you lose your Android phone, there's always Plan B, literally.
An app named Plan B can be remotely installed on a lost Android phone from the Play Store. When activated, the app sends an email to the missing device's registered Google account, hopefully with its location.
For finding a mobile simply mislaid somewhere round the house there's also the free Whistle Android Finder: just whistle and your mobile should beep right back. Be warned; some users say all kinds of odd noises or radio music may set the beeper off, and there are also complaints of it sending out expensive premium-rated SMS messages without the user's consent.
BlackBerry has had a find-me service with a remote-wipe feature on its handsets for years, and Microsoft's Windows Phone 8 system, while not a top seller, may be the best of all.
There's no need for WinPhone 8 users to install an app at all: if the mobile goes missing they can access the Windows Phone Web site from any computer to find, lock or erase it.
Apple security, incidentally, will get tighter when the new iOS 7 operating system becomes available later this year.
Currently if someone with a bit of i-knowledge finds an iPhone you've left in a restaurant or on the bus and decides to make use of it, they can simply toggle off the location system in the Settings app.
Under the new system, the location tracker can only be turned off if the user knows and enters your Apple ID. You should be able to locate the phone and lock it. A casual finder will find he or she has simply acquired a natty little paperweight and, hey, there's someone knocking loudly on their door.

No comments:

Post a Comment