June 25, 2011, 7:55 AM — We can't stupid-proof ourselves to prevent losing the car keys or the TV clicker, but when it comes to our iPhone, a glimmer of hope exists. Apps that claim to track your iPhone, sound a remote alarm, or lock up your data from afar could save your bacon when your precious phone goes missing. But do they really work? If they do, how well? And how much will it cost to track down your missing iPhone--when it could simply be buried between two sofa cushions?
I tested three iPhone tracking apps--Apple's Find My iPhone, GadgetTrack's iPhone app, and SafetyWeb's iHound--to see how well they worked. The cost of the apps ranged from free to a monthly subscription fee, and in my tests they delivered varied success rates when it came to tracking down my iPhone.
Apple's Find My iPhone Excels
Apple's Find My iPhone feature debuted with the iPhone 3GS in 2009. It formerly required a subscription to Apple's MobileMe service, but now it's offered for free to owners of an iPhone 4, iPad, or iPod Touch running iOS 4.2 or higher.
Like all of the services and apps I tested, Find My iPhone must be set up before you lose your iPhone. Unlike the other solutions, however, Find My iPhone doesn't require the installation of any software; you simply have to enable it in your iPhone's settings menu. (Directions are available on Apple's website.)
Once Find My iPhone is enabled, it runs in the background until you need to locate a lost device. You can track a device either on the Web or by using Apple's free Find My iPhone app. The app can be downloaded to another iOS device (your iPad or a friend's iPod, for example) to which you still have access. To access tracking via the Web, you sign on to Apple's MobileMe site using your existing Apple ID. (Although you use the MobileMe site, you do not need a MobileMe account. Apple has not said how the upcoming transition to iCloud may affect the Find My iPhone service.)