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Found, one iPhone | Wired Cola

Found, one iPhone

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So my father-in-law found an iPhone 5 in front of the house, screen smashed, but still able to power on. Even the touchscreen was still responsive!

Unfortunately, the owner engaged in the smart practice of locking their phone, so I can't troll through their personal information looking for a way to contact them (like their email address, a phone number called "home," or similar).

Then began a little odyssey in which I tried to reunite the phone with its owner.

Option 1: turn it over to the police

This is the easy and good-faith thing to do with a phone, but it's not that likely to get phone and owner reunited. For perfectly good reasons of better things to do, little time is spent on lost-phone cases. Even if the owner drops by the police station to try to find it, they may discover a large bucket of turned-in phones, and how to find theirs?

Option 2: turn it over to Apple

This was suggested, and might work, but it's not clear that Apple always has tidy access to enough info about their customers to reliably contact them. Probably, but I'm not sure. It's not clear that they routinely reunite people with phones, expecting perhaps that Find My iPhone is supposed to do that. But ah, there's the rub.

Option 3: Find My iPhone

With most lost iPhones, "wait for owner to activate Find My iPhone, hope he sends a useful message" is good advice. Find My iPhone will reach out to an iPhone, and allow the owner to remotely do a few things, including locate the device, send a message to be displayed on the screen, play an alarm (I've used this to find my iPad in my own house) or even wipe all data.

Unfortunately, this phone appears to be broken enough that it cannot get a cel signal. It doesn't show any signs of finding a wireless signal either (possibly because that radio is also somehow broken), but in case I misread the symptoms, I tried tempting it with various open Wi-Fi access point names that it might have connected to in the past. Having failed to lure it out of its shell with "Apple Store," though, I declared that radio dead.

Option 4: give it to their mobile company

This phone had a Telus SIM in it, so finding out where to take it was no problem. Telus beautifully has an official support account on Twitter, and they rapidly confirmed that dropping it off at the nearest Telus store would get it into the right hands.

I'm pretty sure this will work, since Telus will have the owner's complete contact info on hand, and is naturally motivated to reunite phone and owner.

What Didn't Work, but was interesting

Having turned on the phone, I hoped it would do the simple thing: connect to a mobile network, get found by Find My iPhone, and maybe send a message telling me how to contact the owner. When that didn't work, I tried plugging it into my Mac Mini, hoping that, while the device wouldn't dump any data because it was locked, there might be a back-channel by which it would feed its ID into iTunes, and iTunes would quietly check in with Find My iPhone. If this does work, the phone gave no indication that it did: no message, no sudden wiping. It may be the owner didn't try to find it though, or didn't activate the messaging or wiping modes.

However, plugging it in did tell me new information in the form of the iPhone's "name," which might be the owner's name, since it looked just like a Korean name. Facebook stalking turned up several name matches, but none of them was obviously local to the Vancouver area. So there's an avenue that might work in other cases.

I shot a photo of the phone's distinctive lock-screen background, and tweeted that around with the note that I found the phone in Port Moody. Despite quite a few retweets by my friends, this didn't turn up an owner, but I figured that move was a long-shot, even when I tried another message with the owner's name.

I tried popping the SIM in and out, in hopes of reactivating the radio, but that didn't work. It did let me confirm the presence of a Telus SIM, though.

I also tried activating Siri and "call home." No matches, possibly not a surprise for the phone of a person who probably speaks Korean natively. That said, the phone is set up in English, not Korean (and I'm pretty sure Korean is an available language).

Fiddling around with the lock screen did activate iTunes, though, so I'm now learning about some trends in K-Pop.

The last thing I'll do before turning the phone over to the proper authorities (by which I mean Telus) is take a picture of myself with a URL to this blog post in frame. I don't have any expectations of the owner, but if they want to contact me, they will be able to, and reading this post might amuse them.


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