updated 06:15 pm EDT, Sat June 20, 2009
First Look: Find My iPhone
One of the most anticipated features of the new iPhone OS 3.0 is the ability to find lost devices using Apple's MobileMe web service, which requires an annual fee. Find My iPhone plots the location of a missing phone on a map, allows users to flash a message on the screen and play an alert tone. If all else fails, the user can remotely erase any personal data on an iPhone. We at Electronista and MacNN are taking a quick look at how it works and whether it's worth the investment.
Setup is relatively simple and requires Apple's $99/year MobileMe service. In the settings control panel, in the Mail, Contacts and Calendars menu, users must MobileMe account. From there, its simply a matter of turning on the "Find My iPhone" slider. To track a missing phone, users must log on to MobileMe, access their account information menu, and select the Find My iPhone menu. In MacNN's tests, the map with the location of our iPhone 3G S took about 20 seconds to display; it's not instantaneous, but quick.
A control panel allows users to enter a message to appear on the iPhone's screen along with an alert tone, even if the phone is set to silent mode. In our test it took less than 30 seconds for the alert to sound. MobileMe sent an email confirming that the alert was recieved by the iPhone -- a very important means of telling whether the phone is still functional and worth finding.
As the iPhone has become more popular, though, thieves have taken notice as well. The ability to wipe sensitive data from iPhones will undoubtedly be welcomed by businesses and any user who keeps private information on an iPhone; unfortunately, Find My iPhone does not have the ability to disable a stolen phone, so the user must still contact their wireless company to have it shut off. There's also the concern of more knowledgeable thieves. If they turn location services off, Find My iPhone can't place the iPhone on a map -- just send its alert. As such, there's a slight but real chance the feature could be neutered altogether.
Find My iPhone is a free addition to MobileMe, one that adds value to a service that some users feel is otherwise too expensive and could easily be replaced; this turns the value on its head. For those of us who tend to be absent-minded now and then, Find My iPhone is a nice alternative to spending hours hunting for an expensive piece of hardware. It also provides peace of mind, with the knowledge that credit card numbers and other sensitive information can be quickly erased if an iPhone is lost.