There are several applications available that will help find a lost or stolen Mac. Here at TUAW, we've talked about LoJack for Laptops, Orbicule's Undercover, MacPhoneHome, and iAlertU from Slapping Turtle. Most of these apps "find" the computer by determining the IP address of the machine, and using that data to narrow down the physical location where the laptop is in use. That information can be shared with police and ISPs to find the thieves, recover your laptop, and make an arrest.
There's a new Mac recovery app available called MacTrak that's different -- it uses the same Skyhook Wireless positioning technology used in the iPhone to accurately determine the location of your Mac within 10-20 meters. If your nice new MacBook Pro is lost or stolen, you simply log into a special web page with your predetermined credentials, and click on one button to start tracking your Mac. Every 30 minutes, MacTrak takes a picture with the iSight camera, then sends detailed information including its latitude and longitude to you via email. At the same time, it uploads that same information in a "Wanted Poster" view to your Flickr account. You can then work with the proper authorities to have your Mac returned to you. Read on for more info about MacTrak.
Installing the app is relatively easy. You just need to have an email address (they suggest a Yahoo! or Gmail account) and the license code that is sent to you when you purchase the app. You then create a password to use when activating tracking of your laptop. You enter the email address you want your theft recovery info sent to, as well as the address you want it to appear the email came from. SMTP server information is also required so that MacTrak can send you the email.
Next, the MacTrak installer takes you through a Flickr account login and authorization. The process seemed a little odd to me; the first time I installed the app I obviously did something incorrect since I never did get any pictures uploaded to Flickr. Things worked better the second time around.
After a required restart, I checked to see if there was any sign of the application. Nope! It's hidden from view so no would-be MacBook thieves can disable it. To begin tracking of my device, which had been "stolen" by me, I went to a special website, logged in, and enabled tracking.
A while later, the first email came into my inbox. The image below has been retouched to hide personal location information, but it provided just about every piece of information a law enforcement officer would need to see who had taken my computer. I should have retouched the photo to get rid of the evidence of a bad hair day, too! The latitude and longitude shown were right in front of my house, and a quick look at Google Maps showed that there would only be a couple of houses that police would need to visit to track down my MacBook Air. Pretty cool.
I found it especially compelling that the external IP information provided simply showed the area in which I live, but no specific address. It would definitely require the help of the local ISP (which GadgetTrak thoughtfully provides) to figure out which house or building contained the laptop. The Wi-Fi based location information was right on target, so this method works well in areas where Wi-Fi routers spring up like weeds.
MacTrak costs $59.95 for a lifetime, with no annual fees. You can transfer the license to a new device at any time. If you do a lot of traveling, MacTrak can add some peace of mind should your Mac laptop be lost or stolen. GadgetTrak has a similar iPhone package available, for free, in the App Store (click opens iTunes).