I have always wanted to test the Find my iPhone application in a “real life scenario”, but what happened on September 16th, and the way it saved me not one but two iPads definitely exceeded my expectations.
This is a true story and happened to me during a recent holiday in Hawaii. We were, until that day, having an absolute blast of a time. The weather has been great, the Australian-U.S. dollar conversion rate not too bad, and my 7- and 3-year-olds’ behavior remarkably exemplary. But on September 16th, around 2pm, the four of us were sitting on a bus on our way to Waikiki. Suddenly I realized I wasn’t carrying my backpack. An instantaneous feeling of nausea, malaise, and shock followed as I remembered what I was carrying inside it – most notably my daughters’ iPads (a 2nd gen and a mini). I looked under the seats, on the seats around me, everywhere… But how? When? I’m very careful with things like that, and I could not, for the life of me, figure out how my backpack which I never take off my back, just disappear. After a few seconds of quick reconnaissance, I told my wife to wait for me at the Ala Moana shopping centre we were headed to while I literally jumped out of the bus and ran back to the bus stop where we boarded, then to the Waikiki Aquarium we visited earlier. My backpack and its very valuable content was nowhere to be found. Defeated, I boarded the next bus and found my way to the shopping centre to meet my very disappointed wife and even more so daughters.
The first thing I did was to call the bus company lost & found office to report the missing backpack (using a public pay phone for the first time in this millennium I reckon). Feeling overly pessimistic about the possibility of recuperating my iPads this way, I suddenly remembered that one of the two iPads had the Find my iPhone app installed, as did my iPhone which I had in my possession. The shopping centre had a wifi hotspot and soon enough I was looking at my iPhone screen, once again disappointed, as it appeared the iPad was offline. I was able to remotely lock it, as well as leave a message with my contact details. At this point my family and I have started to give up on the idea that we will see our iPads again. Not only are they simple material things, and we did have travel insurance with a loss of property clause, but these two items kept our kids quiet, and were the difference between an evening my wife and I could enjoy and a true nightmare. And then, suddenly, upon opening the Find my iPhone app on my iPhone for the twentieth time or so, a green dot appeared next to the missing iPad. Located 30 seconds ago.
I glanced at it’s location and saved the screenshot right away. I didn’t know Honolulu all that well, but it appeared the iPad was a fair distance away. It definitely was not anywhere we have been earlier that day, nor on the bus route trajectory. I kissed my wife goodbye, again, and jumped into the first taxi I spotted a few minutes later. I showed the screenshot to the perplexed driver and told him that I will give him a generous tip if he steps on it (it’s funny how in foreign countries it is easy to pretend you’re someone you really aren’t and say things you’d never otherwise say). Ten minutes and what seemed like a hundred red lights later we pulled up to a McDonald’s. This might have been my most expensive cab ride when taking into account the tip, but I was happy that I was finally there. I ran inside and looked around: a few people, but no obviously visible backpack or iPads. I connected to the McDonalds wifi hotspot and opened the Find my iPhone app once more, but before it even loaded my screen went black. My heart sank as I realized that my battery died. Just fcuking great! I started asking around if anyone has seen somebody using an iPad with a hot pink cover. To my big surprise someone has. Richie, a homeless man sitting in the corner, told me of a fellow who only 5 minutes earlier was sitting not far from him playing around with a “small hot pink flat TV”. He gave me a description: small guy with a huge afro wearing a grey T-shirt and black pants and sneakers. I ran out of the McDonalds and started running in a random direction. I wasn’t ready to give up but didn’t know what else to do.
After running a few blocks I stumbled upon a mobile phone repair shop. I ran inside and asked if they sold iPhone lightning cables/chargers. Fortunately the shopkeeper let me recharge my iPhone using his own charger, and even let me use his Personal Hotspot. Once my iPhone turned back on, I fired up the Find my iPhone app and located the iPad again. Gotcha! Lo and behold, the dot on the map was only a block away from where I was located. I thanked the man whose name I can’t remember now, and set for the final leg of my journey.
Once I reached my destination I was looking at an old aqua green-coloured three-story apartment building. All the apartments had exterior entrances from three levels of open walkways, like in a motel. I would guess there were maybe twenty, thirty apartments in total. Where are you, you bastard! I felt I was so close. I had him cornered. But which corner? I then had a brilliant idea. Since the iPad was a wi-fi only model and it was online, this meant that my enemy had a wi-fi network in this building. I looked at my iPhone and found only one available network. Walking around the walkways I was able to determine which part of the building had the strongest (three bars) wifi signal. Luckily for me, that area wasn’t very large, and I deduced that the missing iPad (preferably both iPads) was within one of six apartments. I found a spot from which I had a good view of their entrances and at the same time was well hidden and began the stakeout.
Nothing happened for the next two hours. Maybe even more as I lost track of time once my iPhone ran out of battery again. And then it happened. The door to one of the apartments opened and a small guy with a huge afro wearing a grey T-shirt and black pants and sneakers came out and lit a cigarette. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Thank you Richie and thank you iPhone-guy-working-in-a-mobile-repair-shop. But I didn’t know what to do. I was definitely bigger than this young chap who wasn’t older than 15–16 years old. But I am not very confrontational, and to be quite honest I was scared. This area was definitely a very dodgy part of Honolulu and I doubted the boy had the spirit of Aloha. Once he finished smoking he went back inside.
I stood there frozen. I had came all this way and somehow by a chain of fortunate and lucky events I stood less than 10 meters from my daughters’ iPads, but for the first time that day I was ready to give up. Just not worth risking my life for this. But I did and after another hour of gathering courage I went up to the door and knocked. The door opened and behind it I saw the boy’s face once again, closer this time. His eyes opened wide and before I knew it he slammed the door shut and locked it from inside. He recognized me! I knocked again, and again, and again. After a minute or so the door opened again but this time an older not-so-small man appeared. “What the hell is going on here?”, he asked me. Before I said anything I noted my backpack lying on the floor behind the door. This was the last proof I needed. I took a deep breath and as briefly as I could explained that I thought that the boy who lived there had my daughters’ two iPads and that I just wanted them back. The man called the boy, his son, but the latter denied having the iPads. I proceeded to march inside the apartment and pointed at the backpack lying on the floor. The man first looked at me, then at his son. “Come in, let’s find your iPads”, he said. One of them, the one with the Find my iPhone app installed and locked, was still in my backpack. The second one, the hot pink covered one, was in the boy’s bedroom. The man asked me to please not press charges as his son is already on some sort of parole. I said I won’t. I left the building and never turned back. I have a feeling that boy received a belting of a lifetime from his father that day.
I caught another taxi back to the hotel. My daughters were sooo happy! We were very surprised to find that the hot pink iPad had a new lock screen wallpaper: a thief selfie. It was also password restricted and I needed to bring it to the Apple Store the next day to have it restored. Upon examining my backpack later on I also found a Capri-Sun juice pouch to be missing, but that was all the losses I incurred that day.
It has been over a month now since this happened almost 9000km away. But I will never forget it. Every day I see my daughters playing with the iPads and I smile.
I urge you to install the Find my iPhone app on all your iPhones, iPads, and Macs. It saved my iPads, it might save yours one day as well.