Yesterday my iPhone 4 was stolen. It was two weeks old. The poor baby was snagged from Starbucks by map-wielding hoodlums in a classic distraction trick. As I used it to record an interview, they swooped in with tube maps, seeming to ask for directions. One distracted us, the other swiped my iPhone 4. In a minute, it was gone. But with MobileMe and its handy Find My iPhone feature, surely I’d be able to track it and the thieves down. Well, yes and no…
Find My iPhone is a clever tool. Tapping into your iPhone’s GPS, it gives you the current location and lets you pinpoint it on Google Maps. Sat in the Starbucks on Piccadilly, I could see my phone was mere streets away. My friends converged on the spot and I tweeted the location in the hope that followers might be nearby to spy the light-fingered fiends who filched my beloved iPhone 4 (a little dramatic, I’ll admit).
But once the posse had reached the square where the iPhone 4 had been, it was already gone. Find My iPhone just isn’t real time enough to keep track of the movements of a pair of fleet-footed felons looking to fence a stolen iPhone double quick. I kept tracking and the phone moved to Baker Street. In the absence of Sherlock Holmes personal number, one of my friends jumped into a taxi and gave chase. The phone stayed in one location for a while and then…
The thieves turned it off. By this point I had got the phone blocked and locked it using Find My iPhone. The iPhone 4 was temporarily useless to the thieves. Again with Find My iPhone, I fired off a message that popped up on the phone: “The police are tracking this phone. You will be found. Return it.” No response. The messages got tougher until finally, certain that the iPhone 4 was not coming back, I pushed the proverbial red button – the remote wipe. All the contacts, data and apps are safe in the cloud but that phone was toast. Everything was erased. Hurrah!
And yet: the thieves had won. The iPhone 4 was theirs and ready to be restored at the nearest PC or Mac. Hell, they could even swan into an Apple Store and get it done for them before selling it or waltzing around town with it. Find My iPhone had not rained virtual napalm down on my new enemies. It had just temporarily inconvenienced them.
That’s the problem with Find My iPhone. Ultimately, the thieves can still use that phone, repurpose that hardware for themselves. What we need is a nuclear option. If you know you’ve lost the phone and might get it back eventually then the soft option of a remote wipe is just fine. So is the idea that you track its location and display a friendly message. But if you know thieves have your phone you should be able to burn that sucker.
I wanted an option to call in an air strike on my lost iPhone 4. “You are dead to me now you’ve got those stranger’s fingers fondling your apps…” Apple needs to add a feature that allows you to render the phone completely useless – virtually concreting up the guts, making it impossible to restore, impossible to upgrade, showing nothing but a static screen saying: “The person in possession of this phone is a thief.”
Find My iPhone let me document an interesting chase movie across London – a group of journalists and PRs trying to hunt down some crooks but the ending was disappointing. We didn’t get the phone back. I lost my iPhone 4, the criminals got one and the tracking was just a sideshow in the meantime. That phone should be deader than disco. Find My iPhone didn’t help me do anything other than see their escape route. Thanks a bunch Steve, I’ll be in later to buy another iPhone 4. SIGH.
If you want to follow the chase on Twitter, just hit this #bbiPhone4 link.