So you've lost your locked smartphone or tablet? Here's how to get it back...

Summary:You're locking your smartphone now? Good. But how can people get it back safely into your hands if you lose it? Here's a guide for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone users...

A standout point for me in Tuesday's Apple announcement was that 50 percent of people lock their iPhones. I was surprised it was that high -- it seems every week I say to someone, "Dude, do you really not lock your phone?" My guess would have been closer to 20 percent.

Anyway, I'm grateful that Apple is putting more awareness out there around the importance of locking portable devices. After all, your whole life is on there -- it really should be locked regardless of how many dozens of times you have to key in your PIN each day.

Locking your smartphone or tablet creates a problem though. How do you get it back if you lose it?

The one and only time I've lost my old school pre-smartphone phone, someone found it and handed it in at a local police station. An officer there just went through my address book and called the one marked "Mum and Dad". I got the phone back the same day.

But if it's locked -- that's a different story.

Old school

The simplest thing to do here is to get your contact information on your lock screen. That way when someone finds your phone they see the contact information and call you on an alternative number.

When I discussed this on Twitter, generally people weren't happy with that. The preferred option from my self-selecting collection of friendly technologists was that you use the "Find my Whatever" feature offered by the platform and use that.

However, that won't work with Wi-Fi only devices, like my iPad. It will probably work better with a smartphone admittedly, but think about this for a moment. If you've lost your phone, you want this really, really easy. You want anyone just to pick up your phone and get it back to you. A message on the lock screen is the simplest way to do this.

On old school BlackBerry OS 7 phones this has always been a feature. (In fact, you could push it out as enterprise policy to all the devices in your purview.) Weirdly, as we pivoted to current generation post-PC devices this brilliant idea of just having the device render "If lost..." info onto the lock screen didn't quite make it through to the new era.

If you don't want to spend any money on this and you do want to fiddle around, take a picture, and Photoshop in the contact information. Then set that image to the lock screen background. Here's an example on my iPad:

iOS - Lock screen
A custom lock screen with an (admittedly ugly) "If lost..." message.

You can get apps that make this easier.

  • On iOS there are a few out there -- one I found this morning was If Found Lock Screen.

  • On Windows Phone there is Lost Phone Screen, which happens to have been put together by Microsoft developer evangelist Scott Hanselman.

Part 2: Setting up an Android phone

Part 3: Finding your phone

Topics: Security


Matt Baxter-Reynolds is a mobile software development consultant and technology sociologist based in the UK. His latest book -- "Death of the PC" -- is available on Amazon now.

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