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We Try It: Losing Your Smartphone

After a wonderful night at the ballet last week, on the way home, I had a disheartening realization: I didn’t have my phone. And I was pretty sure I left it in the bathroom in the War Memorial Opera House”¦an hour away.

Yep, while changing into nicer clothes for the ballet, at the end of a rushed and harried day, I set my iPhone 3GS on the paper dispenser in the bathroom stall and forgot to take it with me. Like many smartphone users, my phone stores my entire life: my contacts, music, social networks, email, texts, pictures, calendar. Not to mention the navigation apps that save me when I’m trying to find my way around new cities on my own. Being without that phone has sucked, but not as much as it could have. This story has a happy ending (the phone is currently waiting in the Lost and Found for me to retrieve and I’ve already replaced it with a newer model anyway), but some ways I’d set up my data definitely helped this become a less terrible situation, even if it had been stolen. Here are some tips on how to set up your smartphone to minimize damage should yours become misplaced.

A white bichon frise sits on a step above a row of boxes for different versions of Apple iPhones.
I was trying to take a picture that would have been captioned “We’re loyal customers,” but my dog decided to crash the photoshoot.

Things You Can’t Plan For

Getting a couple of things out of the way first, there are two big aspects to this that you can’t plan for: privilege and luck.

Privilege – Just the ability to have a smartphone, which can be tracked, wiped, etc., is an investment many people can’t indulge in. Older, non-Internet connected phones won’t have a lot of these features. For older phones, you’re best to skip straight to contacting your mobile carrier to have them turn off service, lest you get wracked with the bill for international phone calls you didn’t make. Being able to easily replace it when it is irretrievable is another side of privilege, as is having another iDevice to use until I got my phone back.

Luck – Of all the places to leave a phone in San Francisco, the War Memorial Opera House on a ballet night is probably one of the best, with a good chance of getting it turned in. I also had an older model, making it less desirable. Added to that was good timing; having just lined up two new jobs, I was going to treat myself to a newer model in a couple of weeks (when paychecks came in) anyway. While work meant that I couldn’t replace it for a few days, it’s still better than being without a phone indefinitely.

Precautions You Can Control

Insurance – If you are a frequent traveler or are prone to leaving your phone or other belongings places, springing for loss/theft coverage is a good idea. Check with your home or renter’s insurance to see if you can add coverage for your phone, as well as with your coverage provider to see if they offer the coverage at an additional cost. Be sure to read the fine print; many policies won’t outright replace the phone, but allow you to upgrade to a newer phone before your contract is up without the added (unsubsidized) cost. There are also third party companies that provide additional insurance. The only one I have personal experience with is SquareTrade. While they don’t offer loss/theft coverage, if you are prone to damaging expensive devices (I’ve cracked the screens on two iPhones and one iPad), it’s well worth the additional cost. When repairing my iPad, their service was quick and easy to deal with, and I’ve already invested in it for my new phone.

Tracking Apps – Apple’s Find My iPhone allows you to track your device from any other phone or computer. If this isn’t the first thing you set up when you get your phone, it should be. Not only can you track, you can also send alerts to it (saying “Reward if Returned, Please call 555-555-5555” for example), remotely lock the phone, and, if you have sensitive data, remotely wipe it, as well. Seriously, it has solved crimes. For other smartphones, check this list to find a tracking app you like and set that up now.

Backups – Your smartphone holds your entire life; probably more than your computer. So why would you back up your computer but not your phone? (Side note: If you don’t backup your computer, START BACKING UP YOUR COMPUTER!!!) Backing up your phone weekly (or monthly at least) will ensure that you lose the least amount of important data if something happens.

Embrace the Cloud

Another way to backup your phone is by relying on the cloud. The iPhone makes this super easy, and some of these tips will be specific to that, but some will apply to almost all smartphones. Check with your mobile carrier or phone’s user guide to see what cloud services are available to you.

iCloud (Apple) – With iCloud backups, you never need to plug your phone into your computer again. Backing up to the cloud allows you to restore your phone from anywhere, anytime. Included in this is Photostream, which automatically sends your iPhone pictures to your computer, iPad, and/or AppleTV, ensuring that you don’t lose those important on-the-fly moments. I, admittedly, never got around to setting this up, so luckily, I didn’t take many photos on my iPhone that I didn’t post on social networks anyway.

Google Voice – Since I recently relocated, I wanted to have a local phone number to put on resumes and business cards. I used the Google Voice service to get one. The calls are automatically transferred to my original cell phone number, but I get notifications of missed calls and emails of voicemail transcripts right to my Gmail inbox. Since anyone who would be contacting me with professional inquiries has this number, I can still get their messages and could even transfer their calls to a temporary number if I needed to do so.

Notes, Contacts, and Calendar – While many tech enthusiasts prefer cloud services like Evernote, I still use Apple’s default Notes app. However, I make sure that my notes (and contacts) sync with my Gmail account. So all the important numbers and information that I jot down on the fly are safely backed up and accessible from anywhere. I also live out of my Google Calendar (rather than iCal), so thanks to that, my work schedule and other appointments were still accessible, too.

iTunes – In the past year, Apple introduced the ability to restore all purchases from the iTunes and App Stores. Even without a recent backup, I won’t lose the money invested in those apps and music. I may lose some in-app data, but most important data was also centralized to the cloud or associated with a login.

iMessage – With Apple’s free messaging service between iDevices, I don’t have to miss out on texts from friends who also have iPhones; they go straight to my iPad. It’s a hassle to have to go down the block to Starbucks and use their WiFi while I’m at work, but it’s better than being completely out of communication.

Okay, I Think I Lost My Phone… What Now?

  • Did you install that tracking app? Fire it up now. See if your phone is where you think you left it or if it’s on the move. If it seems stagnant, trying sending a message through to see if someone will contact you. If your phone was already dead when you lost it (as was the case for me), you may want to skip straight to the next tip, unless you’re very trusting. Many lost and found offices will actually charge up phones and see if they can contact a frequently used number.
  • Is it on the move? Call your mobile provider as soon as possible. When I called AT&T to report mine lost, the process was very simple, going through an automated phone menu. They even allow you to differentiate between stolen and lost. Stolen will completely shut down the phone while lost will allow for easier reactivation when it’s found. Cutting the phone off through your provider will also cut off any tracking apps/messages you send through, though, so try tracking before you call your provider unless you know it was stolen and/or want to protect your data ASAP.

In the end, while it really sucked to be without my phone for a few days, the entire experience was much less stressful and worrying than it could have been, had I not had some of the precautions and cloud systems in place. I lost some photos and some text messages, but that’s much better than losing everything and getting huge bills from stolen usage.

Have you had a lost or stolen phone and have a tip to add? Share it in the comments.

By Crystal Coleman

Florida girl living on the west coast. During the day, I consult in social media and community management. I have a really cute puppy (Elphaba) and a British husband (I keep him for his accent) as well as an unhealthy relationship with parentheses.

9 replies on “We Try It: Losing Your Smartphone”

My mom lost her phone in a dinner show in Disneyland. I think if there is a better place than the ballet, dinner theater in Disneyland is next on the list. The staff turned it into City Hall and we were able to get it back that night. Would have got it back sooner if the staff had let her in to check during the following show…but alls well. I think I would be in a complete panic if my phone were lost. I do have prey on it.

My mom lost her phone in a dinenr show in Disneyland. I think if there is a better place than the ballet, dinner theater in Disneyland is next on the list. The staff turned it into City Hall and we were able to get it back that night. Would have got it back sooner if the staff had let her in to check during the following show…but alls well. I think I would be in a complete panic if my phone were lost. I do have prey on it.

I’m the same way, for better or worse.

We’ve got insurance on my iPad, camera, and now my new phone. I have to say, especially after going through the experience of cracking the iPad screen and how easy it was to send it off for repair, I’m a convert. It’s especially nice to not be nervous when my niece and nephew want to play with my iPad or camera since I know they can be easily fixed.

I thought this was going to be a “Step Away From The Smartphone”-post, but hey whatever.

I lost my cellphone once. Left frantic voicemails behind, bullied the rail way company until after three hours I got a call. The guy who found it lived 20 minutes away from me. I was so relieved because it has like ..500+ texts that pretty much biograph my relationship with boyfriend Freckle.

Oh, I am *not* the person to write a “step away from the smartphone” article. I seriously felt itchy and nervous the whole time I was disconnected. I’m just glad I didn’t have an active social media client at the time, otherwise I might not have left my house (and my wifi) until I had another device.

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