Lose your phone not your mind: recovering from a lost or stolen iPhone

A friend of mine recently lost her iPhone at Oktoberfest and it reminded me that many people are unaware of simple measures they can take to make their phone simply a temporary vessel, if the current body is killed, simply download and reboot in a new one (ok too much BSG)

These tips are very iPhone centric as thats what I know, but I'm sure they would not be very hard to replicate on an Android or other smartphone as most are related to web apps. If anyone wants to add some of the ways of doing the same for their smartphone in the comments or send me the link to their blog I will include it in the article. Also it is Windows centric, I'm sure all this is easier on a Mac and any port to the Linux world would also be appriciated.


These days I would really struggle without my iPhone. All my contacts, email, calendar, todolist, documents, notes, music, etc is on there. So take these simple measures to ensure that losing your phone does not mean losing any of your valuable information.

Preventative measures:
  • Contacts:
    • Simplest option, could lose some data between syncs - in iTunes under the info tab select synchronize contacts ideally with Google contacts or Mobile Me but at least Outlook.
    • Real time synchronization, never lose data, bit more technical - I use Google contacts but I'm sure this would work Microsoft Live and probably Yahoo as it is based on Activesync. Backup your contacts using the step above and follow the steps here: http://www.google.com/mobile/sync/ to add a Google account with Activesync (listed as Exchange on the iPhone). Choose replace contacts on this phone with Google contacts. Note if you already had a Gmail account added already to your iPhone you can delete this - you don't need two.
  • Email and calendar - steps above work fine for this also - again Gmail as an Exchange account provides a great experience
  • Files - register with Dropbox.com and download the Dropbox app, all your files are stored on Dropbox and you have access to them. Box.net also provides a similar functionality and of course Mobile me.
  • Apps - This is a critical, everytime you sync your iPhone, iTunes will make a backup of all your settings including all your application data.
    • The backup is stored here: C:\Users\% your username %\appdata\roaming\Apple Computer\Mobilesync\backup  . There is only ONE backup kept per iPhone, everytime you sync your old backups are overwritten, so this makes storing a copy of this on the cloud even more important.
    • Easiest way to do this is via Dropbox again with a symbolic link. Open a command prompt run as Administrator and create the link via:
      • change to your dropbox folder e.g. C:\users\%username%\my dropbox
      • mklink /D iTunesBackup C:\Users\% your username %\appdata\roaming\Apple Computer\Mobilesync\backup
      • I actually do the whole Apple Computer directory
      • The other directory you need to do the same with so that is backed up by Dropbox is your iTunes as your App data is stored there, usually in: C:\Users\% your username %\music\iTunes  . Note this will include all your music and videos etc so the free 2GB on Dropbox may not be enough - so either refer all your friends or fork out the £50 a year. You really want to turn on the Dropbox funcionality to keep previous versions in case a backup is corrupted so that extra space comes in handy for this also.
  • Apps - the above step is required for most apps but a far better approach is applications that have the functionality to synchronize your data automatically, the best ones I have found are:
    • Remember the Milk - one of the best to-do-list managers around and implements the Get Things Done (GTG) methodology well with tags and locations
    • Evernote - for notes, video and audio recordings
    • Elements - synchronizes your documents and notes with your Dropbox folder
    • Reading - Reeder, Instapaper, Kindle all have a backup of your data on the net
  • Photos - you probably have the originals on a computer somewhere. Use Dropbox o store them on the cloud. Also storing them on a photo site like Flikr or Facebook (now that it supports high resolution) is good for sharing as well as making sure you never lose them

Basic security

Some basic security measures to ensure that your valuable info cannot be accessed by the crook:
  • Set a complex password - yes it is a bit of pain to enter but it is worthwhile if you ever lose your phone.
    • Settings > General > Passcode lock . Set Simple Passcode to off and set a password that is at least 6 characters long, has lowercase and uppercase letters, at least one number and 2-3 symbols
  • Turn Erase data to on - this means after 10 failed attempts to login your information will be wiped from the phone. As you have backed it up using the methods above this is not a concern for you and combined with the strong password you set about the chances of someone guessing or bruteforcing your password is next to impossible
  • Maximise the chance your phone is locked
    • Settings > General > Auto-lock set to 1 minute
    • Settings > General > Passcode lock > Require Passcode - After 1 minute or at least 5 minutes
    • Get into a habit of locking your phone - just hit the top button it is real easy
  • Set a password on your backup - because you will be storing your backup on the cloud, even in a secure Dropbox account, set a password (iTunes summary screen > encrypt iPhone backup). Make sure you set a complex password and store this in a password vault (e.g. your Ironkey or Lasspass vault) that is not on your iPhone (a lesson learned from experience :) 

Getting the new body
  • Insurance - even if your information is safe you will eventually need that replacement phone, ideally as soon as possible. Do not waste money on that iPhone insurance through your carrier or the retailer you bought your phone through, most home insurance will provide you a valuables cover even outside of the home as well as cover for accidental damage or loss. Extra cover of £500 for your iPhone with zero excess should add pittance to your annual charge. If not try moneysupermarket.com and change your home and contents insurance. If you lose it overseas make sure your annual travel insurance has the same type of cover
  • GPS - log into a friends iPhone or iPad and use http://www.apple.com/mobileme/features/find-my-iphone.html to see if the crook was stupid enough to leave the phone on and GPS active. If you get lucky report this location to the police
Any more tips or if I have got something wrong please leave them in the comments

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