Quick Lessons From Losing an iPad

A couple of weeks ago I forgot my iPad on the train.

After getting over the initial overwhelming feelings of idiocy on my part, I started thinking a bit deeper about the consequences and whether I had taken sensible precautions to mitigate those consequences.

The Problems

A couple of problems dawned on me:

  1. I had lost something that is quite valuable (one colleague told me with some measure of sincerity: “Nice gift for somebody else”). I don’t spend €700 casually and was distressed about losing something that is worth that much.
  2. More important than the device is the data that is on it. There are two potential problems here. The first is that you might have lost access to data that is important to you. The second is that somebody else suddenly might have gained access to your data. Both of these made me feel very uncomfortable.
  3. Finally, losing the device made it clear to me that all iPads look alike, especially in their locked state, and that there is no way for an honest finder to know who the rightful owner of the device is.

The Solutions

So here is my advice on how to minimize these problems. I recommend for you to apply these immediately if you haven’t done so already.

  • Fully insure your device (I had actually done this). Even though this is prohibitively expensive and even though you really shouldn’t insure devices if you can afford to replace them yourself (those insurance companies have to live of something), I still think it is a good idea as there are so many things that can go wrong with it, just through bad luck. I take the cost of the insurance into account when buying the tablet and amortize that over two to three years.
  • Ask yourself this question: Could I throw my current device in the water, walk over to any random computer with a browser and an Internet connection and access all the data that matters to me from there? If next, you would get a new device, would you be able to easily get that data back on the device? If your answer is no to either of these questions you should change your strategy. Some people might think I ask for too much as they are happy to backup to iTunes. I prefer to be as independent from iTunes as possible (I only use it for updates) and think most people would still lose a couple of days of data if all they had was an iTunes backup. Even before I lost my iPad, I was ok in this area. Here are some of the things that I have done: I like to have all my data in apps that keep both a local copy (for when I am offline) and transparently sync to the cloud. For email, contacts and my calendar that is easy: I use Google Apps for my domain and set it up to sync (you have your own domain right?). My task are managed with ToodleDo. My news reader of choice is Google Reader. All my notes are done with Momo. I have copies of my most important documents synced in a Dropbox folder. Dropbox also provides the syncing architecture for my iThoughts mindmaps and for the large collection of PDFs I have sitting the Goodreader app. I buy my ebooks DRM free and read them with Goodreader or I get books as a service through the Amazon Kindle bookstore. Apple now allows easy redownload of the apps you have purchased in the past.
  • Make sure you set a passcode on your iPad (this I had done too). I’ve set it up so that it only comes on after a couple of minutes of being in standby mode. This why I get to keep some of the instant on and off convenience, but also know that if somebody steals it from my bag they won’t just be able to access my data. One thing I am still not sure about is how secure the passcode lock is. What happens when people try to connect a stolen iPad to their iTunes? Is there access to the data?
  • Find my iPad
    Find my iPad

    Apple provides a free Find my iPad service. I had never bothered to set it up, but have since found out that it literally only takes two minutes to do. Once you have it installed you will be able to see where your iPad is, send a message to the iPad and even wipe its contents remotely. All of this can only work once your iPad has an Internet connection though.

  • Finally, I have downloaded a free iPad wallpaper and have used GIMP to add my contact information on top of the wallpaper file (making sure not to put the info underneath the dialog that asks for the passcode. This way, when somebody with good intentions finds the iPad they will have an easy way to find out who the rightful owner is.

To finish the story: a couple of days after I lost my iPad I called the railway company to see if they had some news for me (I had asked them to try and locate it as soon as I realized it was missing). They told me a fellow traveler had brought in my iPad to the service desk and that I could pick it up. Unfortunately, I have no way of thanking this honest person, other than by writing this post.

8 thoughts on “Quick Lessons From Losing an iPad

  1. Thanks Hans for sharing this story and for your good advice. And I’m so glad that this story has such a delightful and happy ending!

    One addition to your advice: when you setting the passcode for your iPad you can choose to delete all the information on the iPad when the code is not entered correctly after 10 attempts. That adds a bit more security for your valuable data.

    Best regards, Marcel

  2. Good advice and a nice check for everyone else to see how well prepared they are. I would however argue about the first advice: only insure items you can’t afford the costs of loss or damage (eg car and health insurance). In all other cases it’s cheaper to keep some amount in a savings account and be your own ‘insurer’. It’s unlikely you lose your mobile phone, iPad, camera, laptop, etc all at the same time while they would all have to be insured to cover the loss of an individual item.

  3. Hans – I am glad your story has a happy ending. I left my iPad on the airplane the other day. I had set up find my iPad, BUT, my iPad was in airplane mode so I was unable to track it. I never put a lock on it because I use it almost exclusively at home. I only take it out of the house when I am traveling via airplane. I set up the remote lock but was never notified that it went into place. I became paranoid and ended up wiping it yesterday. I still have not received the email that it actually has been wiped. I called the airline and they have not located the iPad. I suppose the person who has found it has figured out how to reset it without notifying me via FInd my iPad. I will add my contact information per your advice when I buy my next iPad.

  4. My team mate had a somewhat similar experience with his company supplied laptop. When reenterning the US at the Houston airport – he placed his laptop in a security bin and then passed it through security scanning machine as required. After waiting in line to walk through the “human scanner”, he picked up his luggage, laptop and belongings and proceeded home. Much to his surprise later, he found out that the laptop he had in his possession was not his but looked identical!

    Somehow through laptop serial nnumbers, he was able to reconnect with the individual that had his laptop and a happy exchange took place. It could have been worse in relation to a lost asset and losing sensitive data. I now have a “personal sticker” on the top of my laptop that identifies it as being different and being mine!

Comments are closed.