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

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...
Written by Matt Baxter-Reynolds, Contributor

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

previous page (iPhone), next page (finding your phone)

Part 2: Android

If you have Jelly Bean or better this option is baked in for you. I'm grateful to my Twitter friend Terence Eden for patiently pointing this out to me despite my remonstrations that I didn't think it was there...

Go into Settings - Security, and under there you will find Owner Info.

Android - Security menu
The "Security" menu on Jelly Bean, showing the "Owner info" option.

Go into that, put whatever you want in:

Android - Configure owner info
Configuring owner information on Android.

...and that information will appear on the lock screen.

Android - Lock screen
Owner information displayed on the Android home screen.

OK, so that's easy, and well worth doing.

Part 1: Setting up an iPhone

Part 3: Finding your phone

Page 1 (iPhone), Page 2 (Android)

Part 3: Finding your phone

Whilst you're there, you might as well make sure that you have your "Find your..." feature set-up on your device.

On iOS, this is done through iCloud. Go into Settings - iCloud and then turn on Find my iPhone/iPad.

iOS - Configure Find my iPad
Turning on "Find my iPad" in iOS settings.

To find your phone, you can go to www.icloud.com, log in, select Find my iPhone and your device will appear on a map. From there you can get it to play a sound, wipe it, or set it to "lost mode". When you go into "lost mode" you enter a phone number, which then shows up on the device.

iOS - iPad lost
The "I'm lost!" message on iPad with a custom phone number.

On Android things are a touch more complicated. For a long time there was no built-in feature to do this. There now is, and if you're running Android 2.2 or better you can turn on Android Device Manager to do this. Go into Settings - Security -Device Administrators and turn on Android Device Manager. This will ask you for permissions when you activate this for the first time.

Android - Device Manager
Activating the "Android Device Manager" feature.

Once that option has been set, you can go online to find it the device at http://www.google.com/apps/mydevices.

Android - Find page
Google's Device Manager page showing the location of my Nexus 4.

One thing that's not great about the Android one is that you can't push a "Please phone me on..." message through to the device like you can with iOS. It just locks, wipes, or rings the phone. You'll still need to set-up a lock screen message.

On Windows Phone, it's a similar story. Go into Settings and there you will find Find my phone. Once you've done that, go to your account at www.windowsphone.com and in the drop-down in the top-right you'll find a "Find my phone" option. You can ring, lock, or wipe the phone as you can on iOS and Android. Like iOS, you can push down a message when you lock the phone. (Thanks to Mike Bazarewsky for the tip.)

Windows Phone - Find my Phone
Windows Phone's"Find my Phone" web page.


Honestly, before writing this I didn't lock screen messages on any of my devices, although I did have the "Find my whatever" feature set on for all of them.

It's well worth taking some time out of your day to get all of this set-up -- if you do lose your phone, you want to make it really easy for someone to convey it back to you.

Part 1: Setting up an iPhone

Part 2: Setting up an Android phone

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

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