How Apple’s New Find My Service Locates Missing Hardware That’s Offline

Originally published at: https://tidbits.com/2019/06/21/how-apples-new-find-my-service-locates-missing-hardware-thats-offline/

Apple’s updated Find My service crowdsources the location of a missing device by letting other Apple equipment identify its unique Bluetooth signals and transmit them to Apple anonymously and securely.

How is this going to work for Apple’s tiniest and most easily lost devices, AirPods?

My wife’s AirPods went missing today and the iOS 12 Find app couldn’t find them without them being paired to a device, which is hard to do when you can’t find them! Is iOS 13 going to make things better for AirPods or will better find functionality only come with new AirPod hardware that can periodically send a signal back to a phone?

It is not! As noted in the article, the issue is for devices that can connect to the Internet and find themselves unable to. For AirPods, they interact with nearby devices. The amount of power used to broadcast a Bluetooth signal when they’re not in use would drain the batteries like mad. Maybe a future Very Very Very Low-Energy Bluetooth will make it happen?

For now, it’s iPhone, iPad, (iPod touch), and Mac. Apple TV and HomePod (as noted) would be weird inclusions. AirPod, wireless mice/trackpads, and keyboards are the only non-Wi-Fi/non-cell devices that could be affected.

Thanks Glenn! I thought perhaps if the AirPods broadcasted a signal once per hour or every couple of hours, it wouldn’t drain the battery so badly over Bluetooth LE. Ah well.

Heck, what about the Apple TV remote? What was the design criteria for that? “It needs to be thin enough to slip into any couch or chair cushion out there!”?

Whenever I watch my Apple TV, the first thing I have to do is find it. It’s worse than Waldo. Okay, I don’t need to track it half way across the world, but it does use Bluetooth. Maybe I could ping it with my phone when it goes missing.

Until Apple comes out with a way to track the remote natively, you could get one of those cheap glow in the dark remote cases on Amazon and attach a Tile tracker to the case.

Lost my Apple computer remote years ago and have not seen it since. But I had already discovered it did not do what I needed anyway. Otherwise I would have attached it to a normal remote sized stick. = Old School.

Just recently there was a news story out of Tennessee where a mother used the Find My Friend service to locate her daughter who had crashed into a ravine:

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There was a lot in the news about that around here. The general consensus seemed to be that surveillance (primarily of kids by their parents) was after all a great thing and saves lives, and yada yada.

Turns out this girl was speeding in bad weather and was not wearing a seatbelt. So I do wonder if the relevant lesson to be learned from this incident is really about Find My Friends (or surveillance in general).

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True, but I felt this is an example of something good coming from Apple’s Find My… services.

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Why doesn’t a phone simply use the phone signal for connecting instead of Wi-fi or Bluetooth? Sure, Apple would need an agreement with a phone carrier and you would need to send an “invisible” ping to which the phone can respond but that shouldn’t be a problem. Or is it?

Find My already uses cellular connectivity or WiFi to locate devices. However, I believe that it’s pretty common for thieves to pull the SIM card out of the phone right away. Allowing the BT radio to ping other nearby devices gives one more method to locate a lost/stolen device, and allows at least a chance for a lost device in a location where there is no cellular signal to be located.

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Yes, although I think again this is a reason why it’s less likely that a clever thief would be discovered this way. Anybody stealing phones commonly would be yanking the SIM and putting the phone in a metal mesh bag—or just aluminum foil. That will block Bluetooth, too. Although maybe they just pull the SIM.

I definitely think this is more likely to help with lost phones.

Oh! And I didn’t explicitly mention this in the article, but it’s one-way-only. So you can find your lost phone, but you can’t send it a signal via Bluetooth to display a lost message!

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I just got a lime green silicon case for mine. Doesn’t slide into cracks and is almost see in the dark. You CAN get glow in the dark ones but the lead time as weeks when I was ordering so I skipped that option.

One of the fist things I did after first misplacing the Apple TV remote, was installing the Remote-app on my phone. It also proves useful when I have to type a passphrase or a search string on Apple TV.

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I was on a business trip a couple of years ago, eating on my own and catching up on news from home using my iPad Air 2. When I left the restaurant, my iPad stayed behind, which I discovered when I pulled into the parking lot at my hotel. I used the Find My iPhone app to lock the iPad, put up the “Call Me” screen, and send an attract tone. Got a call back from the restaurant within a minute. They told me they were glad to give it back to me because they were “a little scared of the sounds it was making.”

I don’t know how well all this would work if my iPad were stolen, but for a lost iPad it worked exactly as Apple said it would. I’ve only needed it once, but that once, was plenty.

I had a similar situation with an iPad Air 2, wifi only. The people who found it spent a week trying to find the owner the the iPad would not automatically add itself to any Wifi. They turned off their own wifi security in hopes of getting it online, which would have solved the problem since I activated Find my iPhone.

They finally reunited us by using a clue on the lock screen, there was a calendar alert which had enough info on it so they were able to contact the host of the event.

My iPad locked screen now includes 3 phone numbers for contacting me.

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Yes. What made mine so easy was that I had connected to the restaurant’s WiFi (using a VPN as a small measure of security), and it was still connected when I left sans iPad.

As with yours, mine is a WiFi-only tablet and won’t connect to new networks without my permission. So I would have been sunk if I had done the usual and used my phone’s hotspot to connect.