My lost iPhone

So I’ve just realised about 30 minutes ago I had lost my iPhone.

I can recall that I have lost 2 phones before. One I actually lost in my own home, I have no idea how I didn’t manage to find it even after extensive looking over a number of months. I was young then so I had the time to do that.

The other was on the train from Wolverhampton to Manchester. I believe that phone ended up in Edinburgh. I managed to get hold of a train attendant at the Edinburgh to check if the phone was there. I even recalled the coach letter and the seat I was sitting in but there was no luck, that phone was gone. I promptly ordered a new sim and bought another expensive phone.

This time is different though, technology has caught up with us but at the same time it has left me stranded. I’ve appeared to be in a unique situation where I can send messages to my phone and see where it is but I can’t get anyone to talk back as I have no phone. The irony was short lived.

###What exactly happened? Well after a night out I came back watched another episode of Community and was about text my friend of my recent ramblings about the show, only to realise I didn’t have my phone. I checked my pockets, nothing. I checked all my pockets and still nothing. Ah ha I thought, I’ve enabled iCloud for a reason. So I fired up a browser, logged in and went to “Find My iPhone.” It took a few minutes but it found it…. travelling with some speed down a main road.

A few thoughts came together in my head. First, when did I see it last? Well I recall leaving the last bar still with it in my possession as I had to help a friend find an address. The next was a takeaway but I didn’t remember taking it out there, then there was the taxi and then home. So if I left it in the takeaway someone would’ve picked it up and they must be travelling in a bus or taxi down this road.

I continued monitoring it to see where it would go. I also activated Lost Mode which allows you to set a number that only that phone can call and send messages to. I also found that it veered wildly of the main bus route, so taxi it is then.

I set the lock screen message with my address and put my friends phone number as a contact. I realised then there was nothing more I could do. I had no way of ringing it unless I physically went to a phone box or a friends house and even then there was no guarantee whoever had it would pick up. There was about 50% battery left, so I figured I could track it tomorrow morning.

###25% battery left. It was morning. I logged back in, it travelled around quite a bit over the night. Interestingly it had spent a lot of time in the city center, which I expected for a taxi driver but only for a certain time not for over 12 hours. The problem was that it was still moving around. So was it still moving around in a taxi or was someone walking the streets with it?

I went checking through my usual social network, common for a Saturday hungover morning. I tweeted out to a few friends to see if anyone was willing to drive me into town and track down this iPhone. I surprisingly got a message from a friend on Facebook saying that he thinks a taxi driver has my phone, the same friends number that I used when I set my phone to “Lost mode.” So far so good. So we now have a phone I can track and the taxi driver was at least willing to communicate to try and give it back to the owner (or just laugh in my face at my accident prone drunken hands).

A friend came down to pick me up. He was armed with his dying iPhone loaded with the FindMyiPhone app, to which I replied with an ultra netbook that could charge it on the go. So off we went. It was all quite exciting we were like detectives only armed with a laptop and phones tracking other phones via GPS instead.

We got to the city and pretty much arrived as close to the location as we could. Now a few things were troubling us, one was that tracking was not real-time you had to force a refresh or wait for the phone to update its location if was far from its previous broadcast. The other was accuracy, now the app does a good job of showing how accurate it is signified by a large translucent radius which nods to you saying “I’m kinda in here and now I’m definitely over there. Oh wait, now I’m in the city somewhere.”

Map showing my lost iphone

We spent the next hour driving around trying to pin down this signal but it was doing some strange things, for example it was going to the same locations over and over again as if following a set path. I don’t know much about taxi drivers but it seems he was going from taxi rank to taxi rank, I don’t think that’s how taxis work either that or he was having really short fares. I started talking to some taxi men but they have no idea who I was describing and to be honest I wasn’t sure if I knew what the taxi man looked like. Eventually two things happened, well three. One was that it seemed he wasn’t going anywhere it would be better if this person left the city, so we could get an accurate signal and also if he heads to a less dense area we would have a better chance of catching him. Two if that didn’t happen then we had another theory, the signals seemed to bounce around one particular building. A police station, so if the taxi driver was kind enough he would’ve dropped it off and it would be there. This would also explain the signal bouncing, GPS has a hard time tracking inside a building. The third thing was we got hungry and we needed food. A guys gotta eat you know.

So after we headed to the police station, I told the man at the desk I have traced the phone to this building (which at some points it had a very accurate reading of being in that very building). He asked when was it handed in.

“Umm I guess around 2 or 3 in the morning?”

The last known broadcast before it started bouncing around the city centre. He went off and checked.

He came back and said, “No phones were handed in overnight.”

I was wondering if he was being cryptic with me as if to say there were phones handed in sometime since then. He then offered to check my IMEI to see if was handed in at any other police station. I gave it even though it was clear I was tracking it to this building, either that or someone was walking around outside with it… for the last 10 hours.

He came back with nothing. Interestingly 2 other people came around the same time also claiming lost or stolen iPhones. I wonder how many get lost in a big city?

There was nothing I could do, at this point I was pretty sure it was there. I’ve eliminated nearly all possibilities but a man who represented the local constabulary just said it wasn’t there. I did feel like pushing my way in and looking for it myself but a police station was the worst place to even think that.

I went back home. Luckily I used the immobilise site and registered all my expensive devices there with their respective serial numbers. Immobilise connects to the National Police database for lost or stolen goods, so if anything turns up it can be traced back to you. So I figured maybe the phone is going through the system and it will eventually be recorded and flagged as lost. I set the phone as lost on the police database and set my work number as a point of contact. I looked at one last shot of my phone with a green dot hovering over a Apple map view of the police station with only 9% life left at the end of the day.

###It was going to be dead by the morning. The next day I logged in anyway. It looked as though it died around 6am. I figured I would block the phone and sim card as well since whoever had it was not going to charge it. I was also wondering if it can’t turn on how were they going to check IMEI number against the national database. Turns out the IMEI is printed on the simcard tray, who knew?

There was a bit of irony as I had no phone to contact my network but they did have a live chat system on their site and I just queried to the obviously Indian service guy with an overly English first name, “can I report my phone as lost and block it?” “Sorry for that. Sure we can do that for you.”

Monday 11 am Reception ring me at work. It was the police station.

“Is that Harvinder Atwal? Have you lost a phone?”

It was as if I didn’t know it was missing but I guess it was standard procedure. I didn’t seem very enthusiastic about the police ringing me about this and I told him.

“I came down the station on Saturday to try and get my phone back but the man stated it wasn’t there.”

“Strange,” he replied, “It was handed in this morning.”

I didn’t believe that for one bit. I went that evening to collect it and a very nice woman was there to greet me, very cheerful anyway.

Yet there was more examples of ignorance and red tape. She immediately told me I was too late to pick up the phone. She explained that the main area where items are stored was closed and I would have to come back. I explained that the officer on the phone told me that he would leave it at this desk as he knew I was coming outside of the normal office hours. “Oh, I will have a look then.” So basically she wasn’t briefed on what was available or who was coming tonight. On a side note two women were there who did have an appointment about a lost phone but said phone did contain images of a flasher. If those walls could talk in that dinky little reception area.

She came back with my phone claiming I was very lucky, considering that all iPhones are similar. I thought otherwise. She even asked how did they know it was mine? I explained about the police database and how IMEI numbers worked. She was surprised, she was old so that might explain some things. I was surprised she was working at this desk but didn’t know how lost/recovered property was managed. I told her how I tracked this phone here and I spoke to the man at the desk but he claimed it wasn’t there, then I get a phone call 2 days later telling it is there. I asked, quite sincerely, is there a delay between a phone getting handed in and it being reported? Her face said it all, it was a confused look but not one of misunderstanding, more like this shouldn’t have happened. She offered to give me the number of the manager I could contact, to find out how this had happened. I refused, I didn’t need to know that badly, it was enough for me to get my phone back, I appreciated the police for doing that.

At the end of all this, it seemed like quite a journey. I learned a bit about taxi drivers, how tracking works and what its limitations are and how even today some old systems are still in place for mundane things like lost items. There is a lot to learn from this but I am glad I kept a record of what I own and made the relevant authorities aware of this and I am glad of technology in general as without these innovations I would’ve lost a phone.

On the other side I do remember when I lost my last phone, it had none of this fancy tracking stuff and it was actually a less stressful experience. I couldn’t track it while fretting about where was it going and is the person going to read my message. I simply moved on and got a new phone. So technology is going to do strange things to us and it’s going to get stranger.