Oh the sheer horror of it! I’m feeling uneasy at the very thought of my iPhone getting half inched. At the moment, my strongest defense against thieves seems to be keeping my iPhone (s aapl) within a 1-foot radius at all times.
Beyond simply keeping a keen eye on one’s iPhone, it would be much more appropriate to leverage some of the device’s actual technology in an effort to ensure its safety and, at the very least, assuage the owner’s simmering worry.
Caught You! is the first app to hit the store that has awoken the tiny gadget-loving Bond inside of me: the app utilizes the iPhone’s raft of connectivity features — specifically 3G/Edge and GPS — in a bid to combat theft.
Once installed, Caught You! masquerades as a standard iPhone app called Bank Details. The idea is that when your phone is pilfered, the thief — unethical and prone to stealing things as they are — will be sifting through your apps, spy Bank Details and decide to load it up in a bid to access your precious savings.
The Bank Details app invites Mr. Thief to enter a pin number. The thing is, there is no pin number, and so while Mr. Thief is excitedly trying various combinations, the app is covertly mailing its location back to you.
It’s an ingenious concept, executed in an efficient way, putting the iPhone’s Q-esque feature-set to potentially good use. And it’s exciting to think you might catch the thieves at their own game, should that fateful day ever come.
Preparing The Ruse
The setup process is simple — it requests your email address — this initial configuration screen will, the app warns, never be seen again. After this, you simply have to close and open the app a few times — each time agreeing that the app is allowed to use your current location — in order to initialize it.
A tip though: the address you use will be the one that future covert messages are sent to, so it’s best to set that to a rarely used email account, certainly not the email account that you have synced to your iPhone’s mail application.
After this quick setup process, the app will never again ask for permission to use your current location. To all intents and purposes it seems like an iPhone app designed for holding various bank details, account numbers and such.
The developer’s instructions don’t mention this, but if you manage to botch the setup process, by entering the wrong email address, simply delete the app and re-install it. Once freshly re-installed, the app is ready to be initialized.
In The Wild
After the setup period, I took to the streets of central London and tested out the Bank Details app several times. I was looking for speed and accuracy, in terms of the app locating me and firing off an email as fast as possible.
While the app’s performance wasn’t perfect, it was admirable — locating me down to the nearest block. The alert email hit my account seconds after opening the app. The message itself containing activation time, latitude and longitude, plus a very handy Google Maps link.
Now there are of course some unmentioned caveats that may not be obvious to the average user. As discussed, the app needs to be initialized before use. In practice, when the app is activated, the iPhone will need to be able to locate itself quickly and it’ll need a data-connection signal in order to fire off the covert email.
Furthermore, standard practice once your mobile phone is stolen is to call your carrier to de-activate the SIM, contact the police to report the crime and call the insurance company. Delaying any of this might mean you’re ineligible for your insurance and will almost certainly give the individual who scampered off with your iPhone more time to rack up the bill.
Caught You! really does work, in so much as it accurately determines your location and consistently fires off emails to your chosen address. However, it’s unclear just how useful this app would really be. Where it shines is in its psychological comfort-value. It really feels good to know that there’s an extra degree of protection for such a valued possession.
Knowing which block, in which neighborhood, your kidnapped iPhone is on may not be so helpful in practice though. Furthermore, is this the kind of information the police could take seriously or act on? And, if not, surely it wouldn’t be advisable to go knocking on doors in a desperate bid to retrieve your stolen goods.
For worried iPhone-owners who fear that their device could be pinched at any moment, Caught You! is a worry-allaying app that you’ll hopefully never have to use. However, for the rest of us, the app’s prime-feature, while impressive, is vastly outweighed by its lack of practicality. As such, I just can’t see this being useful in a real-world iPhone-theft situation.