iPad Lost Mode

This past Saturday, I was on a 7am EDT flight from Orlando, FL to Seattle, WA – which means I was up at 3:30am east-coast-time to make the flight. That would be pretty harsh, except that my normal timezone is 4 hours later than that. The flight was smooth, and I half-slept most of the time. I took out my iPad and put it into the seat back pocket to work on it or read a bit during the flight, but never used it.

The following day after we were home, I went to get the iPad – and realized to my horror that I’d never pulled it from the seat-back pocket. The data was fortunately backed up, but loosing the hardware – a gift last Christmas – wasn’t a hit I wanted to take. We called the airlines baggage team, and they put in a lost report. I was pretty sure it was gone and resigned myself that I’d have to replace it some months down the road. I could simply make do until then, feeling foolish for leaving it in the seat pocket when I was half-asleep.

I logged into the Find my iPhone app on my iPhone, and marked the iPad in “lost mode”. I wanted it found, and had never used this feature previously. I set up the message that it was lost, and included my phone number – which shows on the lock screen. It hadn’t been able to connect to any networks where it already knew the wifi, so it was just “missing” from that system, but if and when it did connect – it would drop into “locked/lost” mode.

On Tuesday, the airlines called me and let me know they’d found an iPad matching my description. After a brief discussion, we verified that it was indeed mine. Within an hour I had several options for getting it back; choosing to have it delivered. I was expecting it to arrive “some time before 8pm on Wednesday”.

On Wednesday, I was at my usual coffee-house haunt, and saw a notification in email – “Your iPad has been found”! I checked the location, and it was my home address! Wait – the email notification was from 30 minutes ago.. So I called my sweetie and she ran downstairs and found… nothing!

She ran around the outside of the house three times, looking for any place where the box might have been left, but nothing. We immediately thought “OMG, it’s been stolen from our front porch” – as there’s a thing in our neighborhood where package theft is pretty common.

After looking again at the Find My Phone app, I realized that while it was “found” – it reported as being on the street in front of our house – and only for a minute, before disappearing again into the mists of who-knows-where. In hindsight, I imagine that the Fedex driver simply happened to be passing near our house at 9:17a. It was going slowly enough that the iPad was able to finally make a wifi connection it knew and register itself. Fedex, who was delivering it, reported that it was still undelivered, so after an hour or so of “theft panic”, that faded into a vague concern and hope that it really was still out for delivery. Fortunately updates from Fedex are nearly real-time, so if they’re reporting it is still in transit, there can be a reasonable amount of confidence that it is.

Over the course of the day, the Fedex delivery driver wandered around our neighborhood, delivering all their various packages. I got 2 more pings from the iPad, which also reported that it was “playing a noise” since it was lost. In both cases, it was near wifi networks that I’d previously connected with, and it was in those locations for only a minute or two. I can only imagine the driver being confused, if they heard the sound at all, coming from the back of their truck.

It was finally delivered home, around 6pm – nearly nine hours after first reporting itself in the area. It was in lost mode, and I was able to log in and recover it – everything intact. I felt extremely relieved, and even more that fortune had sided with me that day. Many friends have done or reported something similar, and devices forever disappear after that scenario.

I should mention that the Alaska Airlines team was fantastic through out this whole nerve-wracking scenario. They were super understanding when I called in panic, thorough about verifying the device was indeed mine when the found it, and efficient after getting the reports filed, made available online to me, and really flexible delivery options – including allowing me to come pick it up if I wanted.

The “lost device” feature was lovely, except when it wasn’t. It was like hearing distant calls for help that you can reach in time; sort of like the terrible dream where you can never make it to the end of the hallway to escape whatever dread it coming. I don’t know that any capability or feature of the iPad that would have made that better, it was just hellishly nerve-wracking to wait while it yelped in the back of that truck, wandering our my neighborhood.