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

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...

TOPICS: Security

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

Topic: Security

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    I'd be more worried about my fingers. Because muggers will soon be carrying chicken scissors to chop off the fingers of Apple customers foolish enough to buy an iPhone 5s.
    Tim Acheson
  • It pays to be friends with the NSA

    Just ask them where it is. Its so easy when you know how.
  • The real "old school" solution

    I used to write my reward and contact info on gummed address label and stick it inside the battery compartment cover. This works even after the battery expires. Now, just like the BB OS7 feature you described, the battery compartment cover is gone.

    Still, if you use a protective silicone gel skin, put the sticky label behind it, or use a permanent marker on the hidden side of the gel skin.
    • Really old school method

      I tape my business card to the backs of my devices. When information changes or the cards get grungy, I change them. If you tape right over the card with scotch tape, it'll stay clean for quite a while. I recovered an iPad once this way (I'd left it on the roof of my car and drove off), when a couple of kids turned it over to a colleague. Not necessarily pretty, but effective, and nobody has to figure out how to get inside, or figure out how to charge it if it happens to be dead.
  • Labels

    Write your name and alternate phone number on a label, then affix to back of phone. Works even better under your phone case where it won't wear off.
  • This is the result when I try to activate Device Manager

    My Devices

    Show all devices

    You do not have any android devices running Device Policy. Please add a device to begin.
    Google Apps Device Policy is only available for Google Apps Business and Education customers. Please log in with your Google Apps account to access this page.
    • Yea not a very good option for most people

      The best solution is Where's My Droid app. You just text it what you want and it texts you back, is reliable and free. Lookout Security has a find feature but it is unreliable especially if you have your phone programmed to disable background data to save battery. Lookout, if it did work, has a cool feature called Signal Flare which broadcasts the phone location right before the battery dies.
  • I C E

    My Android lock screen has
    Wife: name: cell number.

    I can't read my email if I've lost my phone,.

    In Case of Emergency info is available, too.
  • Service provider

    I recently found a Galaxy S4 with a drained battery. Because there was no lock screen information to help me, I took out the phone's SIM card, called the service provider listed on the SIM and read out the numbers printed on the SIM card. I also left them my cell number. They contacted the owner of the phone who lived in the neighbourhood and came by to pick up the phone within half an hour. It's a good idea to make sure that your service provider has your house number or email address in cases like this.
  • Live Fingers and Labels

    I've heard that the Apple fingerprint sensor actually checks to ensure the finger is alive. If true, that was a great design attribute to include to eliminate the gory possibilities discussed here. Of course, you could be drugged and still alive while they use your finger, but who among us is so important that someone would bother to do that!

    I also have used the old school technique of the label on the back and I used the old lock screen message for this purpose. I was surprised when it was dropped by recent generations of equipment.

    I like your photo edit option, too.
  • Windows Phone 8

    Just a note to say that you *can* send a message to the lock screen on a Windows Phone 8 when sending the Lock instruction.

    I have tested it on my phone.
  • Add Owner Information to Locked Screen.

    First off, phone must not be charging for the message to appear. To add a message to your locked screen, go to:

    Settings->Lock Screen->Owner Information>

    Tip: Enter something that stands out, mine says, "*** PLEASE CALL (123)456-7890 ***

    If you add too much text it scrolls on the locked screen making it hard for the person to get the number so keep it short so they can see it.
  • Correction for Android Device Manager method

    Matt: The link you've recovery (via Google Apps) only works for Business and Education subscribers.

    The generic link is:

    The Erase feature seems to grey out until you switch GPS on and get a lock. I found I had to re-open ADM in a new browser tab in order to get it working properly after that.
    • Works

      This was the correct solution. Once you login it tells you that you need to enable the erase features from the "Google Settings" app on your phone.
  • The Joy? of Android

    My HTC One's android (v. 4.1.2) does not have the same screen as the article shows.
    The Joy? of Android - it's always different. Nothing matches anything in an article because Android is always different
  • Google apps/mydevices not free

    The Google service is not free, it is part of their business apps. Starts at $5/month.
  • Another good option

    I want to share another option that worked for me. Tracer tags let someone who finds your lost stuff contact you directly without exposing your private information. I use them on almost everything I take when I travel, including phone and laptop, after one of the tags was responsible for getting my lost passport returned to me in Rome one time. You can get them at
    Mike Hirn
  • Keep in mind....

    All of these methods are only useful if a well-intentioned individual "finds" your device. Nearly every device has a hard wipe feature that renders any "Find my device" app useless. There are a few android phones that do have hard-locks that persist through a device hard wipe...which really sucks when someone forgets their password/lock pattern.
    Melvyn Rabinowitz
  • No need for an app...

    or Photoshop or anything (at least if you have a Mac). I just opened a picture in Preview, Tools/annotate and add text to the pic. I did it as a speech bubble, then Save As to preserve the original pic. Simples!
  • So you've lost your locked smartphone or tablet? Here's how to get it back.

    For Android phones, you can use products like Vipre AntiVirus Mobile Security which offer a "Lost Device" feature to find your phone if it gets stolen, lost or misplaced.