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The Case of the Missing iPad Pro: Find My for the Win

In a situation that may be familiar to many TidBITS readers, I’ve recently found myself providing technical assistance to an elderly neighbor—call her Beverly. I suspect that she’s in her 80s, and while she claims otherwise, everything I’ve observed suggests that she’s plenty sharp mentally. What she’s not, however, is expert in the use of her Apple devices: an iPhone 12, a 12-inch iPad Pro, and an Apple Watch Series 6. And she does lose things—on my second visit a few weeks ago, I helped her order a new sport loop-style Apple Watch band so she would be less likely to take the watch off and forget where she’d put it. At the time, I didn’t realize this might be a trend.

Nevertheless, it’s rewarding to help her solve problems and show her what her gear can do for her, partly because doing so gives me insight into places where Apple’s interfaces are confusing or overwhelming for someone like her. And because she thanks me with pie. You can’t go wrong with pie.

Beverly called me Monday in a panic. Over the weekend, she had been at a dog obedience competition with her poodles on the other side of the state, staying overnight at a small hotel. When she got home, she couldn’t find her iPad Pro anywhere, so she assumed that she had left it in the hotel. When she called the hotel, the people at the desk weren’t helpful or reassuring. Hence her phone call to me.

Most of the time, when someone calls me with a problem, they’re overreacting, but there were two facts about her iPad that caused me to worry for real. I hadn’t previously internalized that she traveled with it or I would have said something on my previous visit.

  • The iPad’s passcode was 1234, which is so common that the very first person who heard this story interrupted, “And let me guess, her passcode was 1234.” If you or anyone you know has a passcode that’s sequential numbers or all the same number, encourage them to change it immediately—those are way too easy for anyone to guess.
  • On the inside flap of her iPad case, she had taped a piece of paper that listed all her passwords. Writing down passwords is far from ideal, but as long as the paper is securely stored, it’s not the end of the world. Attaching it to a portable device is a serious mistake, and I’ll be having a chat with another neighbor who reportedly recommended this approach to her.

In other words, she had left behind a device that could be unlocked trivially, along with a list of all her important passwords. The whole situation screamed, “Hack me!” Even worse, when I asked, she said that yes, her email address was also written on that piece of paper. My heart fell. I was going to have to help her erase her iPad remotely and change passwords to all the accounts she could remember.

Monday was already shaping up to be an insanely busy day for me, so I asked her to come over. After she arrived, I opened the Find My app on her iPhone and tapped Devices at the bottom. It listed two iPads, and she said one was an older model that her husband used. It was showing up at her house, as it should.

The other iPad, though, the one we thought might have been near Buffalo, listed my address as its location. It took me a few seconds to realize what that meant since I was expecting either “No location found” or a spot somewhere on the western side of New York State. “Find My says it’s here at my house,” I told her. “Could you have lost it in the car?” I tapped Find My’s Play Sound button but was told that the sound would play once the iPad connected next—had we been at her house instead of mine, it might have worked.

So we rushed outside and tore her big SUV apart, looking under the dog rugs and usual detritus that accumulates in a rural vehicle. Nothing. I had searched the passenger side, and she’d looked on the driver side, but just to be complete, I suggested we switch sides so each had a fresh pair of eyes. Meanwhile, I was telling her about how we’d once lost a Garmin Forerunner watch for weeks between the front seat and center console in our Subaru Outback and how our son Tristan’s Apple Watch had similarly disappeared earlier in the year. And then, lo and behold, when I leaned far enough over the driver’s seat and peered down into those cracks, I saw the edge of the iPad case.

You can imagine her relief at not having to replace the iPad Pro, change passwords, and worry about online identity theft. (And my relief at not having to help her with all that on what was turning into one of those days.) It was a huge win for Find My, and the first time I’ve had the opportunity to use it to recover a truly missing item.

In fact, my previous usage of Find My was a complete fail. In July, Tristan had borrowed our Subaru to go camping with friends at a state park in Pennsylvania. For complicated reasons involving not enough charging cables among young adults with too many devices, he had removed his Apple Watch at some point on the way home. He realized this a day after returning the Subaru, so he asked us to look in the car.

Since he’s in our Family Sharing group, I could also see that Find My thought his watch was still somewhere in Pennsylvania, although he was sure he’d had it after packing up the car. Rooting through the car did indeed uncover it on the floor outside of the driver’s seat, but even though it had power, it refused to update its location with Find My until he unlocked it. That seems to be missing the point, and it certainly should have known about our Wi-Fi network.

Find My fail with an Apple Watch

Needless to say, I sent Beverly home with instructions to change her passcode to something reasonable and to store her password list deep within a file cabinet. I also turned on iCloud Keychain on her iPhone and iPad so stored passwords would sync. I hope that will, over time, ensure that she doesn’t need to refer to the password list.

I didn’t have time that day to get her started with upgrading to iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and watchOS 8, but I’m planning to do that soon. The reason is a welcome new feature of Find My—Notify When Left Behind. I first tried it with my AirPods Pro (see “Apple Updates AirPods Pro and AirPods Max to Support Find My,” 6 October 2021), and it worked like a charm, alerting me that I’d left home without them later that day (I had to override the default so it would notice that I’d left the AirPods at home).

Two days later, we went out again, and again I got a notification that I’d left devices behind. Of course, leaving devices at home isn’t generally a problem, so I reset that option. However, several times when I’ve gone running since, I’ve gotten a notification on my Apple Watch that I’ve left my iPhone behind—absolutely true since I always leave it in the car.

Notify When Left Behind feature of Find My

I suspect that the Notify When Left Behind feature may not be completely reliable, but if it helps even some of the time, it’s worth using. It wouldn’t have helped Beverly because she didn’t actually leave her iPad behind, but if she had done so, her iPhone and Apple Watch would have alerted her before she’d gone far. That might happen next time.

Amusingly, in the excitement of finding her iPad Pro, she accidentally left her purse hanging on our dining room chair. I sent her an email suggesting that perhaps an AirTag should be in her future. Regardless, I suspect there will be more pie in mine.

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Comments About The Case of the Missing iPad Pro: Find My for the Win

Notable Replies

  1. Excellent Adam, good for you.

    Find My is essential for me. I’m so glad of AirTags, my keys, wallet, laptop and camera bags all with them. Though whenever my wife borrows my car she and I are alerted.

  2. Adam, beautiful!

    Three really important things here — Find My is an essential, not a luxury — found my new, missing iPhone within seconds after misplacing it.

    Don’t get me started on passwords! We’ll just keep nagging! (Howard Oakley at Eclectic Light has a good piece on exporting passwords from Safari at the top of his blog at the moment…)

    And a little more like the subtext, but even more important: good neighbourliness is also an essential — Adam thank you for reminding all of us!! It’s part of the basic spirit & values of TidBITS!

  3. There is an interesting story here:

    Regarding passwords,… I find the Passwords function in iOS Settings useful at times. Just needs a fingerprint (iPhone 8) or passcode to activate to see all of the passwords that Safari and some other apps have used. It also gives warnings about duplicated or weak passwords. I realise this has been covered in previous Tidbits articles and Take Control but it is worth reminding people they do not need to write passwords on bits of paper.

  4. I remember a long time ago when Apple first implemented Find My iPhone back a decade ago.

    I had returned from shopping and suddenly realized my iPhone wasn’t on me. Panicking, I called the stores I visited, but none had a iPhone returned. As a last desperate attempt, I used the Find My Phone on my Mac, and tracked my phone to the grocery store where I shopped.

    I took my MacBook Pro to the store and tried to get a WiFi signal. At that time, WiFi wasn’t as universal, but there was a Starbucks next door, and If I stood in one corner of the store, I could connect to that Starbucks’ WiFi.

    Pinging my phone revealed it to be on the top shelf on one of the aisle. I must have put it done to reach for an item on that shelf.

    I remember reading that year about stories of people who tracked down their iPhones and stolen backpacks via Find My Phone. It seemed like amazing technology.

    Older and now retired, I use my Apple Watch to ping my phone when I misplace it at home which happens a lot more than it should. I’m thinking of getting a second iPhone to ping my watch when I misplace that in order to ping my misplaced iPhone.

    Where the damn thing could really be useful is the damn TV remote. It’s too damn thin and misplacable. Why that isn’t part of the Find My network is beyond me.

    I misplaced it this week and couldn’t find it. I ended up ordering a new Siri remote, an AirTag, and that Elago R5 case you once featured. to end this issue once and for all. Of course, now that I have a new Siri Remote, I found the old one.

  5. I recommended a friend get 1Password to store all of her passwords. A few weeks later, she called me up. She couldn’t remember her 1Password password.

    Since then, I’ve been using my 1Password to store the passwords of the other people I recommended to use 1Password.

  6. My first real use for Find My and recovering an iPhone was early on, when most were not aware of it. We had been on a rural road locally, stopped at a roadworks for quite a while, so much so I got out of the car and had a look. That must have been the point my iPhone fell out of the car. Anyway we were moved on and about five minutes later I was going to make a call and noticed my iPhone was not with me. I figured it must have been at the roadworks and drove back.

    We arrived and the truck with the workers was heading off, I approached one guy as he entered the truck, asked if they’d spotted the phone, he shrugged and left. Rather despondently I resumed searching the side of the road.

    I then recalled Find My. My wife had her phone, set up a hotspot, I lugged out my iPad and joined it and went hunting for my iPhone. The iPad showed it nearby and moving. She drove, I giving directions as the iPhone moved around. Sure enough we found ourselves following the truck. They pulled over at their depot. I went up and asked again, saying I could track it to the truck, again they shrugged. I pinged the phone, the loud dinging came from a jacket hanging in the truck. “Oh that? Didn’t know that was a phone…”

    Sheepish handover complete, we drove off.

  7. Yeah…me too. My wife still uses Password Wallet since she doesn’t want any auto fill in…I’ve tried to convince her it’s safe since the certificate gets verified but she doesn’t want to be confused by the facts. We each have our master passwords in the other’s vault…and our son also has them, as well as all of our device passwords including the admin accounts.

  8. I have a story to illustrate Adam’s point about sequential passcodes. We used to have an Amazon Fire TV which made purchases way too easy. After my then two-year-old accidentally purchased a few things, I set a simple “1234” purchase passcode to prevent that. I made it simple because I didn’t want it to make legitimate purchases a big hassle. Flash forward a couple of years and I found my then four-year-old buying stuff because he had figured out the 1234 passcode.

    The lesson: if a four-year-old can figure out a 1234 passcode, anyone can.

  9. 1Password’s auto fill has saved my butt multiple times. If it wasn’t for auto fill, I would be unable to sit.

    There are many times when I get what I believe is a legitimate email only to realize it was a clever phishing attack when 1Password didn’t automatically log me in. I caught a company wide attack this way. A fake email from our what was supposed to be our tech support team had asked us to relogin to our corporate website because they had reset the servers. About a dozen people at my work fell for it — including one of the people on the tech support team.

    I tell people that auto login is an important security feature if done correctly (and a dangerous security failure if done incorrectly). Thankfully 1Password does it correctly.

  10. But inquiring minds insist on knowing: What kind of pie? :slight_smile:

  11. Adam, you are a class act! You told the tale beautifully… good thoughts, humor, and writing. Thank you.

  12. Long ago (birth of the Mac year, 1984), I bought a house in the hills south of San Jose. Home security was in its infancy, and I probably didn’t need it, but I was impressed by a locally engineered (all wired, hand built circuit boards, etc.) system. The owners of the company wanted its customers to take a gun safety course and procure licensed handguns to bolster their protection. The cost to wire a large already built home was pretty high, but I did it anyway. The company’s president was just this side of paranoid. For example, he had already envisioned the scenario where a homeowner would come home, be accosted by someone hiding in the bushes who would demand he/she unlock the door, and when the wall mounted keypad beeped to announce the need to disarm, if the perp demanded the homeowner shut it off, there was a “secret code” the homeowner could use that would simultaneously silence the entry warning but also alert the monitoring station of a hostage situation in progress (that secret code just incremented the final digit of the usual code by 1).

    We had a few little niggles after initial installation, so the security company owner came to our house to scope them out. At our front entrance, he had me disarm the system, then re-arm it, then he asked me for our security code so he could re-arm and test a few things (all the time trying to tell us why we needed hidden handguns in the house.

    I could almost feel his heart break when I responded to his query about the entry code: “I,2,3,4,5,” I responded.

    I’m also a big fan of the AirTags. Just yesterday, they found my brand new iPad Pro (in our own car), my Apple watch, and my wife’s iPhone. Implementation of the AirPods Pro is a bit sketchy, but I think I’ve read that’s going to be improved.

    I am nervous about using common sense to track down something stolen, however. Making a perp’s shirt pocket beep while he’s surrounded by his own buddies has so many ways to get ugly in a hurry…

  13. At times I am reminded I live on the other side of the Atlantic. These are not considerations here. You make a good point.

    When I lived in Brooklyn one day coming home from work, I intervened in a robbery and got the goods back to the victim, went home and told my American wife, she blew up, what was I thinking, it hadn’t occurred to me that I might have placed myself in serious danger.

  14. I think this is far more a matter of a specific location than nationality.

    There are plenty of places in the US (but not in a big city) where you could do the exact same thing you did. And there are many big cities in Europe where it could be just as dangerous as New York.

  15. Yes, cities are cities everywhere but nonetheless gun ownership is not the same here as in the US. The awareness difference is what I was referring to.

  16. Apple, of course. :-) With apples from her trees. But apparently she’s planning pies of other flavors for the future too.

  17. What a terrific story! Thank you for sharing it. And I will add that my husband and I use the Find My app to locate each other more often than our devices! Whenever one of us is on the road, we can track each other via Find My when needed. This is especially helpful in inclement weather. And we’ve used it to help a friend navigate a different route when driving to help her avoid closed and iced roads.

    As for passwords: We have the 1Password Families plan and we can’t live without it!

  18. Yes, we use Find My for all the family members, it was a great solace when our boy was thousands of miles away, and it is handy to see when to get dinner moving if I can see she is on her way home. On the other hand I’m quite sure our other son had alerts for when my wife and I were near the house, TV off, essay open…

  19. jrg

    “Notify when left behind” has a useful option of not notifying when at defined locations.

    So when I go for a run with just my watch, I don’t get alerted about my phone because it is at Home.

  20. I love “notify when left behind” and wish it had been around years ago when I used to tuck the iPad into a counter at work and then not see the black case when I left. I had multiple jobs at the time and would have to use “Find My” to figure out where I’d left it.

    But with “Notify”, why doesn’t it tell you when you are back in range?


  21. I’ve done that for my clients for years, but I always ask their permission first. Most agree.

    And quite a few of my clients have called me over the years to be reminded what their password is, so I see it as a valuable service.

  22. First Find My experience: I misplaced my phone back in 2010. Panicking, I used another device to look it up in Find My iPhone. It showed as traveling rapidly away down a nearby interstate. Panicking even more, I called places I’d recently visited. One of them had it in their lost and found.

    I never did find out about the spurious signal.

  23. We just moved in Montana, to Bozeman, one of the few places in the state where “liberals” are in the majority. Shortly after moving, we had a locksmith come to re-key all the locks. While he was working, my wife asked him about adding additional levels of security, e.g. remote monitoring of a security system.

    “Are you kidding?” he responded. “Nobody breaks into houses in Montana. All the theft occurs where no one is around. Everybody knows that everybody has guns. That’s far better security than any locks.”

    (remember, this guy makes is LIVING selling locks).

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