On the face of it, Apple’s Find My iPhone feature does what it says. If you lose your iPhone, you can identify its last known location by looking in the Find My iPhone app or on the iCloud Web site, and you can make it play a tone. It’s great for tracking down a missing iPhone, whether you lost it in your bed or left it behind on a bus.
But Find My iPhone does much more! For starters, it works with nearly any Apple device. You can use Find My iPhone to locate a missing Mac, iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, Apple Watch, or AirPod. We use this feature often to find our devices, especially the tiny AirPods. Find My iPhone can also help if your Apple device is stolen, and we’ll talk about that later in this article.
The most important thing to know about Find My iPhone is that you must turn it on before your device goes missing!
- In iOS, tap Settings > Your Name > iCloud > Find My iPhone and enable Find My iPhone. Also on that screen, turn on Send Last Location. Finally, go back to the main level of Settings, tap Privacy > Location Services, and make sure Location Services is turned on.
- On the Mac, open System Preferences > iCloud and select the Find My Mac checkbox—if you see a Details button beside Find My Mac, click it, click Open Security & Privacy, and select the “Enable Location Services” checkbox.
Once Find My iPhone is on, go ahead and practice viewing where your devices are located and playing tones on them. That way, if a device goes missing, you’ll know how to put Find My iPhone to work.
Find My iPhone has a few tricks up its sleeve for when you want a device to show a message or if you think it was stolen:
- Lost Mode: With this mode, which works on an iOS device or Apple Watch, you’ll be asked to set up a 6-digit passcode, optionally enter a phone number where you can be reached, and a message (“Please return this iPad to the Starbucks on 3rd and Ravenna—no questions asked!”). When you enable Lost Mode on a missing device, it kicks in as soon as the device is awake and has an Internet connection. Anyone who tries to use the device will see your message along with a place to enter the passcode. Additionally, if you’ve set up Apple Pay on the device, Apple suspends the device’s capability to make payments with those credit or debit cards. If you get it back, you can enter the passcode to dismiss the message and use it normally.
- Lock: Available for the Mac, the Lock feature enables you to protect an entire Mac with a short passcode. You can also enter a message that will appear on the Lock screen. This is a good choice if you think you’ll get your Mac back but would prefer that nobody mess with it in the meantime. Note that if you lock a Mac, you can’t erase it as we discuss next, so lock it only if you think it can be recovered.
- Erase: Even if your device had an excellent passcode or password, you might worry that a thief will access your data. Fortunately, you can erase your iOS device, Apple Watch, or Mac. This resets it to factory defaults and deletes your data from the device. In the case of an iOS device or Apple Watch, even after the erasure, if the thief doesn’t know your iCloud credentials, they will be unable to set it up for someone else, rendering it useless. If you get the device back, you can restore your backup—you do have a backup, right? Note that erasing a device makes it impossible for you to see its location in Find My iPhone.
- Activation Lock: If the stolen device is an iOS device or an Apple Watch, when you turn on Find My iPhone, you also enable Activation Lock. This feature prevents someone who doesn’t know your Apple ID and password from turning off Find My iPhone, erasing the device, or setting it up for a new user. In other words, Activation Lock makes it so there’s much less of a reason to steal an iOS device or Apple Watch, since the stolen device can’t ever be used by anyone else.
Note that Find My iPhone works only while the device still has power, so if you think a device has been mislaid, it’s best to try locating it right away, before the battery runs out. But even if you are unable to retrieve your Mac, iOS device, or Apple Watch, you can likely prevent others from accessing your data or taking over the device.