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When Find My iPad Fails

by on February 1st, 2011

So let me begin by saying I lost my iPad last week.

Well, I’m not entirely sure if it was lost, or stolen or whatever, and that’s not really the point. I’m not looking for sympathy, nor am I looking for jests or jokes at my expense. All I really want to do this week is gripe about how ‘Find My iPad’ failed and how it ruined my week.

I upgraded to the latest version of iOS 4.3 on my 3G iPad about 2 weeks back. Restored my settings from backup (which had a Find My Device account set up) and thought everything was set up fine; my mail setup was exactly as before and all of my media was brought back on to the device. Great, I thought to myself, and carried on with my life.

A few days later, my iPad disappeared from my bag while I was out with friends. Called around to make sure it wasn’t dropped at the restaurant, checked a few lost and founds. Then I remembered about my Find My Phone app on my iPhone. Launched it and tried to track it down. The system didn’t pick up the device anywhere. I tried a remote lock and even sent a message to the phone with no avail. A few hours later, I decided it was a lost cause and sent a remote wipe command. (Yes, I know, a real tear jerker.)

For the many of us who have never needed to do a remote wipe through Find my Phone, the process is extraordinarily simple. Select the device for remote wipe, and enter your Apple ID password. The MobileMe system will send an email back once the wipe is complete. Simple, right?

Yes. Dead simple as long as the device can find a network it can connect to, or if the settings are correct. To this day, I have yet to receive a confirmation, and that in itself is the fundamental flaw of the system. My suspicion is that either MobileMe wasn’t properly set up when I jumped over to 4.3 (a large possibility when testing beta software), or I lost it in the Toronto subway system (which is well known to be an insulated Faraday cage) and the 3G SIM card was forcibly removed to prevent the device from contacting the network. In both cases, the result is the same. My iPad was lost to me forever. I hope whoever finds it will take as great care of it as I did. Ultimately, I lost sleep and productivity at work worrying about the state of my device, and whether my critical corporate files aren’t in the wrong hands.

So, what have we learned from this experience? Firstly, always verify your critical system settings whenever you update your device. Test that MobileMe is picking up your device by actually using Find my Phone app on another device. Secondly, make sure that you’re setting the device to wipe after a fixed number of pass code attempts. This will give you peace of mind. Thirdly, don’t assume that Find My Phone will be your savior if you ever lose your device. It’s got some major vulnerabilities that you can’t control. Network outages and network blind-spots are prevalent in major cities and in rural areas. It’s certainly better than nothing, but just keep in mind that it isn’t 100% reliable.

In any case, I hope my experience will keep you vigilant and conscious of your iPad’s security vulnerabilities. I picked up a refurbed device online early last week, and I’m back up and running. Still, going without the device for the week did dampen my mood quite a bit. Let’s hope this won’t happen to you too.

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Posted under: Reviews, Troubleshooting

  • http://twitter.com/scwleung Sam Leung

    Here’s a quick update on the situation:

    Got an email from the Genius Bar for a Work Authorization to replace my iPad stuck in recovery mode. Turns out someone went to the Square One Apple Store to swap it. Odd that the Genius Bar was happy to make this swap even though clearly I wasn’t the person to have brought it in.

    Gonna have to try to dig a bit deeper on this one. Apple phone support didn’t really offer much help there.

  • http://www.iphoneincanada.ca Gary

    Damn, that’s unfortunate about your lost iPad, Sam.

    But that’s even crazier that the Apple Store happily swapped it without checking IDs or anything. Good luck in your search!