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Apps: Find your lost phone

So a couple of Wednesdays ago in a run of spectacular stupidity and bad luck I managed to lose my phone on the morning commute. But with an equal measure of spectacular good fortune and the help of an app (and a couple of friends and work colleagues) I managed to recover it again.

Many people have asked how I got it back (as well as how the hell did I lose it in the first place), which app did I use and could they download it on their phones? Since not everybody has an Android phone, we’ve decided to do a quick round up of the leading phone locator and recovery apps and services for all types of phones out there.

It’s worth noting that in order for all of these apps to work, your phone needs to be switched on as all apps rely on cellular tower information (and in some cases GPS info) in order to pinpoint your phone on Google Maps. This means if you lose your phone on the tube or anywhere where there’s little or no signal or your battery runs out then you might have slightly less luck getting your phone back.

If you do manage to locate your phone with one of these apps and you think somebody has stolen it, we’d advise you to get in touch with the police instead of attempting to recover it yourself. However we’d also advise you to contact the relevant lost property departments first if you’ve lost it on a bus or train.

Protip: if you do feel like catching some sleep on the morning commute, make sure your phone is switched on and in your pocket before you nod off.

[image credit: Johan Larsson]

Seeing as this app was my personal Nexus One saviour, how could we not start with this one? Lookout is an all-in-one anti-virus, data back up and location tracker service for Android, Windows Mobile and BlackBerry phones. It locates your missing device using GPS or cell tower info and displays search results on your desktop in Google Maps.

If your phone’s GPS is switched on, its location on the map will be constantly updated without you having to refresh it. If not, you’ll have to refresh manually to get a fix on its location using cellular information. You can also make your phone ‘Scream’ or emit a loud noise to help you find it, or if you’re worried about any personal information falling into the wrong hands, remotely wipe everything from the phone.

Lookout Security is free to download from the Android Market, Windows Marketplace and BlackBerry App World.

Find My iPhone is a really simple GPS location app that works with iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches (iOS 3.1 or later).

Find My iPhone locates any missing device on Google Maps on your desktop, or on any other device that can run the app. So if you’ve misplaced your iPad you can fire up Find My iPhone on your iPhone to find it, and vice versa.

As well as acting as a phone finder, Find My iPhone allows you to remotely lock devices and permanently erase any data on them if you’re worried about them falling into unscrupulous hands.

The app itself is free but requires a MobileMe subscription which starts at the not inexpensive £59 a year. There’s a 60-day free trial period with MobileMe as well, if you want to give the service a whirl before digging deep for a subscription.

If you want to track your iPhone in the event of it going missing but don’t want or need to subscribe to MobileMe, then there’s always FoneHome. FoneHome costs £1.19 from the App Store, but after that that’s it, no additional subscription fees.

You’ll need to register an account from your computer before downloading the app which you can do here. Once you’re registered and you’ve installed the app on your iPhone it’s a simple process of signing in through the app using the login and password you’ve created.

From the desktop you can see roughly whereabouts your phone is on Google Maps and make it emit a loud siren to help you find whereabouts it is. You get a choice of siren options (‘siren’, ‘car alarm’ and ’high-pitched scream’) and cleverly the volume control if your iPhone won’t work if it’s screaming a siren. This way if some light-fingered tea leaf has pickpocketed your iPhone, they won’t be able to turn the noise down.

While FoneHome will work on older iPhones it’s been optimised for iOS4 devices which can support multi-tasking, as ideally the app runs in the background.

For versions older than iOS 4, the app needs to be activated in order for you to track your iPhone. Though not ideal, the FAQ on myfonehome.com advises you to push a message to your phone (which you can do from the desktop) along the lines of ‘Important Bank Details Enclosed’ in order to trick a thief into inadvertently activating the app.

Google Latitude has been a standard feature of Google Maps for a while now and is a really simple (and free) way of locating your phone on your desktop. Best of all it works with practically every phone out there at the moment; most Symbian S60 Nokia smartphones, Windows Mobile devices (5.0 and above) and most BlackBerry phones as well as iPhones and Android devices.

As you can use Google Latitude to see wherebouts your friends’ phones are (if they’ve subscribed to Google Latitude as well) then you could even help them out if their phones go missing. If you’ve got iGoogle set up on your Google Account you can even add a Google Latitude widget to your homescreen.

The only drawback is that you can’t use Latitiude to remotely lock your phone or wipe it’s memory – just see whereabouts it is on Google Maps.

WaveSecure is a phone recovery service for Android, BlackBerry, Symbian and Windows Mobile phones.

As well as tracking your phone’s current location using GPS and cell towers, WaveSecure allows you to back up, wipe and restore data remotely. Contact info, call logs, text messages and photos can be backed up to WaveSecure’s remote servers leaving you free to wipe your phone and memory card remotely. If you don’t want to resort to such a permanent method, you can instead simply lock your phone with a 6-digit PIN number which you create during the set-up and registration process.

You can scan for your phone either whenever you want or set the desktop app to search for it at regular intervals of 15 minutes, 30 minutes or every hour.

You can add the numbers of up to nine ‘buddies’ who will be alerted by text if your phone goes missing and some unscrupulous sort tries to put a new SIM in it.

WaveSecure is free for a 7 day free trial period, after which you’ll required to fork out $19.90 (currently just shy of £13) for an annual subscription.

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