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iCloud 101: Keep track of your iDevices with Find My iPhone

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Each time you get a new device from Apple, in addition to adding it to your backup strategy and registering it with your other devices on Apple’s support profile, it is also a good idea to ensure that you can locate it using iCloud’s “Find My iPhone” services. With the enhanced iCloud Lost Mode feature of Find my iPhone introduced last week along with iOS 6, Apple has made locating and recovering a lost device a whole lot easier.  You can use the following as a guide to learn how to get everything set up.

How it works on your wireless devices

Your iPhone as well as your WiFi+ Cellular iPads are connected to the internet almost constantly. These devices also come with a built-in GPS receiver that can pinpoint your exact location. So they not only know where they are, they also can communicate their location to the iCloud.

iOS Find My Settings

To configure your iOS device, all you need to do is the following:

  • Launch the Settings app and go to the iCloud section.
  • Switch on the “Find my iPhone,” “Find my iPod,” or “Find my iPad” setting.
  • Goto the Privacy settings and select Location Services.
  • Switch on the “Location Services” and switch on the “Find My iPhone,” “Find my iPod” or “Find My iPad” setting.

How it works on your Wi-Fi devices

For Apple(s AAPL) devices that only have Wi-Fi capabilities — say an iPod touch or iPad without cell service or your Mac — the way they communicate their position is a little different. They utilize what is known as the MAC address (or machine address) of the Wi-Fi access point that they are connected to. This is then used to search a database where most, but not all, Wi-Fi access points have their locations stored. When these Wi-Fi only devices establish internet connectivity, they will assume that they are at the pre-determined location of the Wi-Fi access point. So while these Apple devices may not know where they are exactly, they can figure out where the Wi-Fi access point they are connected to claims to be located.

OS X Find My Settings

To configure your OS X device, do the following:

  • Launch the System Preferences application and go to the iCloud section.
  • Switch on the “Find my Mac” setting.
  • Go to the Security and Privacy settings, click on Privacy and select Location Services.
  • Check “Enable Location Services.”

Locating all of your stuff

Find My iPhone on OS X and iOS

This is where using a shared account for all of your family’s Apple devices can pay off. The iCloud account that you use for the Find My iPhone service does not have to be the primary iCloud account that you use on the device.  If you have turned on the Find My iPhone service using the same iCloud account on all of your devices, then you will be able to track and locate all of your devices using that same account.

To locate any of your devices, you must use the iCloud account that you enabled the “Find My” services with. You can then use the Find My iPhone iOS app on your iPhone, iPod touch or iPad, or you can log on to the iCloud service through Safari on your Mac. Once logged on, the list of devices being tracked with that particular iCloud account will each update their location on the map.

What to do after you have found your stuff

If it is not where you expected it to be, you do have a few options. Here are some of them available using various iCloud services:

iOS Lost Mode

Notify When Found –  If the device is not able to locate itself, or connect to the internet, you will not be able to find it.  Rather than constantly monitor the screen until it shows up, you can have a message sent to you when it does come online and has an updated location to report.  Simply check “Notify Me When Found” for the device you are trying to locate.

Play Sound – If it is lost and nearby, you can use the iCloud service to have your device play a loud sound until you find it.  The sound will be audible even if you have muted your speakers or turned down the volume.  This will work if the device is online, even if the location of the device cannot be determined.

Lost Mode (iOS only) – This is new. For your iOS devices, you can send a message to the device hoping that if someone reads the message, they will give you a call and let you know everything is alright.  This will also lock down the device using the passcode you have already established on the device, or let you lock the device remotely with a new passcode.

Lock (OS X only) – For Macs, you can still lock down the device, but you cannot send a telephone number accompanied by a message.  This makes sense since the lock screen on OS X does not have the ability to display a message like the lock screen on iOS devices.  So this option is really more handy if you leave work in a hurry, and didn’t log off before you left.  Be sure you can retrieve the device once you do decide to lock it remotely.  After that, your Mac cannot be erased until it is unlocked.  And the only way to unlock is by having the device in your hands.

Erase – There are those unfortunate occasions where your device has either been stolen, or is in a location that you do not trust and cannot get to quickly. In such instances, you can elect to erase the device entirely.  Once erased, the files and configurations on the device cannot be restored except from a backup of the device.

17 Responses to “iCloud 101: Keep track of your iDevices with Find My iPhone”

  1. Ursula Harbinson

    i lost my phone and my mummy got it turned off because its contract so no-one could use it and because she has done that it wont let my track it on “find my iphone”. is there another way i could track it ?

  2. Hi all,

    I’m new to this and have a question. I have unfotunatley lost my iphone 4s and have been trying to located it through icloud to no avail. I have turned on the ‘find my iphone’ feature on my handheld, however once I realised i’d lost it I went and got a replacement sim card, thus deactivating the sim card in my iphone (not clever I realize now). I’ve been getting differing information on whether the find my iphone feature will still work without a sim card, and if not, will this feature work with a sim card that isn’t my own?

    Any info would be most helpful!!

  3. My daughters are in college and each have iPhones. Is there a way (with their permission!) to set it up where I can track their phones from my iMac? We just want to be able to check in on them when they are driving home by themselves…


  4. Correction:
    iPads with wi-fi only have GPS in them and can communicate their correct geolocation. They don’t use IP based geolocation (which you referred to as MAC address)

  5. Dr. Sleep

    One step backward… If my wife is using the iPad in another room, I used to be able to send her love messages using this system. No way to do that now without simultaneously locking the iPad, which would not be appreciated.