In what is almost certainly the first incident of many to come, iPhone owner Kevin Miller was able to retrieve his lost and stolen iPhone from the hands of the thief using Apple’s new Find My iPhone feature. Announced during the WWDC ’09 keynote, the feature allows MobileMe customers to track their iPhone remotely via a Web interface and see its location displayed on a Google Map. It can also be used to display messages on the iPhone’s screen remotely, have the iPhone play a sound, and even remotely wipe its contents should all attempts to retrieve it prove futile.
On this particular occasion, Kevin accidentally left his iPhone at a bar in Chicago and only realized it was missing once he was down the street. When he couldn’t find his iPhone at the bar upon returning, Kevin and his two friends, Ryan and Mark, decided to use the Find My iPhone feature that Kevin had thankfully turned on before losing the phone.
Although MobileMe reported that it wasn’t able to connect to the phone the first couple of times they tried, it eventually appeared on the radar the next morning, in a block a few miles away from the bar they’d been in the evening before. What followed was a wild chase from Medill St. to the corner of Washtenaw and Milwaukee, where the thief held up his hands in surrender and handed the phone back to “the Jack Bauer trio.”
As amazing as this feature is though, I wouldn’t recommend any of you to try your hand at it should your phone ever actually get stolen by a thief. As Kevin admits in his blog post, this could easily have gone horribly awry if, God forbid, the thief had been armed (or even just a really well-built man who had no intention of giving up the loot). It may sound like a heroic scene out of 24 on paper, but it falls strictly under the category of things not to be tried at home.
Kevin also makes some interesting points about how Apple could make this a more polished experience. For one thing, the sound the iPhone plays when you invoke the command via MobileMe is still governed by the ringer volume set on the phone (even though it does override the position of the silent/ringer switch), which means that it can be muted by whoever is in possession of your phone.
Furthermore, the MobileMe Web interface doesn’t automatically update the location of the phone on the map as it moves around, requiring you to keep refreshing the page manually to stay on top of the game. Given that the whole service is heavily reliant on “push” technology, it seems like an odd omission. Finally, if only Apple allowed you to access the MobileMe Web apps from within Mobile Safari, it would’ve been possible to track the lost iPhone using another iPhone.
Anyway, it's reassuring to know that the Find My iPhone feature works exactly as advertised and increases the likelihood of finding your iPhone should you ever misplace your prized gadget. While some are hesitant to pay MobileMe's $99 per year cost, this is a great example of just how much the service brings you for what it costs. I, for one, am a thoroughly satisfied MobileMe customer and look forward to the improvements Apple has in store for the future.