Find My iPhone Seems Trivial Until the Day You Really Need It

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I say that Find My iPhone seems trivial until you need thanks to freshly gained experience. Before, it used to be a nice feature that was really handy for tracking down the kids’ devices when they misplaced them in the house or left them out in the car. Before yesterday, the only time I had to use it to track down something that was really lost was when my daughter left my wife’s iPhone 5 sitting on the trunk of my car one Summer night.

I drove said car to the grocery store after dark that evening, unaware that I had an unplanned passenger. The iPhone held on until a little over halfway to the store before falling off the back of my car, tumbling into the road, and coming to a battered and shattered stop in the adjacent bike lane. I was actually able to find that phone sitting next to the road, as it was still functional after its tumble from a moving vehicle. It took a little time, but between the map and Play Sound feature, I was eventually able to spot it and take it home to assess getting it repaired.

This iPhone 5 incident happened over four years ago, so it’s been a while since Find My iPhone was pressed into urgent service by anyone in my household. That changed yesterday. It’s one thing to track down a device that you’ve lost around the house. It’s quite another to track one that is in someone else’s possession. Here’s what happened.

I live in a small outlying suburban town outside of Memphis, TN. We have a really nice Farmer’s Market here that runs every Saturday from the week of Earth Day until the end of September. My daughter and I take one of our dogs out and pick up some local produce and other goodies every week that we can while the market is up and running. This year’s version of the Farmer’s Market started last week, and we were there again yesterday enjoying the beautiful Spring morning with our dachshund, Ziggy.

Don’t let the innocent look fool you. Ziggy can be a HANDFUL. More on that in a moment.

Most of the vendors at the market only take case, so we needed to stop by the store to get cash back before heading out. We went to our local Kroger, where my wife works in Customer Service. I kept the dog outside on a swing so he wouldn’t go crazy in the car, while my daughter went inside and my wife helped her get cash for goodies at the market.

Unfortunately, I tend to get distracted when I have both Ziggy and my daughter with me. On a few occasions last year, I either left my iPhone at home or in the car and had to rely on my Watch and its cell radio while out at the market. Because of this, when I noticed that my Watch was on cellular while walking around the Courthouse yesterday, I assumed I had done the same. I was very unhappily surprised when I got back to the vehicle and saw that my phone was not there. Not good.

After quickly taking my daughter and pup home, I got my iPad Pro, which thankfully has a cell radio, and quickly pulled up Find My iPhone. It took a minute for my iPhone to come online. That was scary.. When it did, it initially didn’t show a location. Then when it came up, I had a sinking feeling. My iPhone X was showing up at someone else’s house, and this was not a house I have ever been to. I triggered the driving directions and followed them to the address to scope things out.

When I pulled up close by, I pondered what to do. I had already put the phone in Lost Mode, but I wasn’t sure what to do past that. It would be an incredible risk just walking up to this person’s door and demanding my phone back. What if the GPS signal was off a bit? What if they had it and just turned my phone off and tossed it? Worst case, what if they pulled a gun on me? On the other hand, I also remembered the story of the couple in Georgia who got blamed for every iPhone theft within their local area because of a strange glitch with their closest cell towers. What if my phone wasn’t close by, at all?

I’m glad I didn’t do anything rash, because when I switched from Maps back to Find My iPhone, it was showing a new location. Now my iPhone was showing up at Kroger, which made sense. That was the last place I could remember having it, as I was using it while sitting on the swing with Ziggy. I pulled up in the parking lot and headed inside, where my phone was waiting for me at Customer Service. When I tapped Play Sound, I could hear the muffled tones of my iPhone X from inside a drawer and felt a TON of relief. According to the lady working Customer Service at that moment, it had been brought in and left there about 30 minutes before. My wife wasn’t at the desk at the time, so she didn’t even know my phone was there, or that it had been lost at all.

It had been far longer than 30 minutes since we had been at Kroger before going to the Farmer’s Market. That was more like two and a half hours before. Based on that timeline, it is pretty clear to me that my iPhone was at the house that Find My iPhone lead me to initially. That was a step in the progression from offline, to online with no location, to where it had been, to where it actually was. Thankfully, the person living in that home I sat in front of was honest and took it back to the store, leaving it for me in the exact condition I had left it sitting on that stupid swing in. I definitely appreciate that they did the right thing.

I am so glad that Apple provides such an easy way to track and recover your phone. With as much money as we have wrapped up in them, especially the iPhone X, having an easy and almost completely automatic way to track them is absolutely essential. I can’t help but think- what if the person who found my phone hadn’t been so honest? I had to consider that when I was on my way to Kroger, hoping I would find it, but not sure if I would. My next move definitely would have been to use my wife’s phone to call the local police and see if they would help me, based on the information from Find My iPhone. I am SO glad I didn’t have to do that, but it’s also great to know that I had some hard proof at my disposal if the situation had come to that.

It’s easy to get cocky when you know a little bit about technology. I used to be pretty arrogant about using PDAs, laptops, and smartphones for over 15 years before breaking a screen. And then it finally happened to me and cost me a painful $100. I have to admit, I’ve also gotten on my high horse about never losing track of my devices, especially to my kids when they are careless with theirs. After yesterday, I humbly recognize my human capacity for screwing up and I won’t be doing that again. I will just be grateful that an Apple service that I have taken for granted for several years was there, ready and waiting to come to my rescue.

James Rogers

I am a Christian husband and father of 3 living in the Southeastern US. I have worked as a programmer and project manager in the Commercial and Industrial Automation industry for over 19 years, so I am hands on with technology almost every day. However, my passion in technology is for mobile devices, specifically Apple's iOS and iPadOS hardware and software. My favorite is still the iPad.

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