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Six things I learned from losing my iPhone 3G


A couple of weeks ago, I was on a two-day business trip to Kansas City. As usual, the moment my plane landed I turned on my iPhone and gave my wife call to let her know that I had made it to my destination safely. I told her I'd text her as I got my rental car, and then call when I got to my hotel.

Heading out the door of the terminal to catch the rental car shuttle, I reached into my pocket for my iPhone only to find that it was gone. I did a quick search of my other pockets, my briefcase; anything within reach. Nothing. The next step involved running back into the terminal, talking to the folks at United to see if they could have someone check my seat on the airplane. They did, with negative results. I gave them my name and home phone number so that they could call me if it was found on the airplane when the cleaners did their job, and then I headed on to collect my rental car and go to the hotel.

The next morning, I called the lost & found office at the airport, and nothing had been turned in. Since I depend so heavily on my iPhone for my work, I ended up going to the nearest AT&T store to buy another phone. Read on to see what I learned from this experience.

#1 -- Replacements are expensive.
When you buy a new 3G and you already have a service plan, you're stuck. You'll be asked to pay full price, which in the case of the 16 GB model as a whopping US$499 plus tax. Ouch. I thought it might be less expensive to wait until after I returned from the trip, then check eBay to see what the 16 GB model was going for. I'm glad I didn't wait -- most phones on eBay were selling for about the same price, and some of them (unlocked or jailbroken iPhones in particular) were selling for more!

Some people I've talked with since then said it depends on the Apple or AT&T store you go to. In some cases, they'll take mercy on you and sell a phone without a new service plan, or they'll add a few years onto the service plan and call it even. I went to an AT&T store in KC, and was told by both the employee and the manager that I was going to have to pay full price.

Would cell phone insurance have helped me out? I talked with my insurance agent and he mentioned that they offer coverage especially for cell phones, but by the time you pay the deductible, you've almost paid for the cost of a new phone anyway. Check with your personal insurance agent if you're interested, but don't expect to get a low-cost premium with a zero deductible.

#2 -- Using a passcode lock is a great idea.
After almost losing my iPhone in February in Livingstone, Zambia, I decided it might be a good idea to lock my iPhone using the standard 4-digit passcode. There's a toggle in the passcode for wiping your iPhone after ten unsuccessful attempts at entering the passcode, and just for grins I had enabled it. When I lost the phone, I was glad that I had turned the wipe capability on.

#3 -- Sometimes fat and sticky is better than slim and slick.
I had a very slick little protective case on my original phone, and I'm pretty sure that the phone slipped out of my pocket onto the airplane seat. I've since gone with the mongo OtterBox Defender case for the new iPhone, since it's so big I'll notice if the phone is gone and it has a grippy rubberized coating that should keep things from sliding out of my pocket unnoticed. The OtterBox looks like a sumo wrestler suit on the phone and it collects dust like it was covered with duct tape sticky-side out, but I seriously doubt if it's going to just slide out of my pocket. I'd love to see somebody come out with a slender case with a chain or lasso that could be tied to a belt.

#4 -- iPhone backups are wonderful.
Once I returned from the trip, all I had to do is plug my new iPhone into my desktop machine and have everything restored to it from a previous backup. I do at least one full sync / backup a week, and usually do it 3 - 4 times a week. A couple of apps I had performed ad hoc installations of didn't restore themselves, but for the most part they were rather unimpressive apps anyway. Way to clear off the bad apps, Steve!

#5 -- If you're really dependent, consider a backup phone.
I'll let you in on a dirty little secret; I have a lot of phones. Some of the consulting work that I do requires that I use phones of different platforms (Palm, Android, Windows Mobile, Symbian, BlackBerry, etc...), so I've got a lot of phones and two different wireless accounts. Since this fiasco, I've started dropping the T-Mobile G1 Android into my carry-on luggage so I always have a spare phone to use for email, web browsing, Twittering, and (oh, yeah) making phone calls.

If you don't want to make the commitment to a second phone and airtime, a good inexpensive backup would be one of the pay-as-you-go phones that you can get for little or no cost. At least you'll have a temporary phone with no long-term commitment, even if it isn't as cool as your iPhone.

#6 -- Let 'em know who you are.
After the loss, I grabbed one of my favorite wallpapers for the iPhone, threw it into a photo editing application, and added a short note with my name, home phone number, and a request to return the phone for a reward. That's my new wallpaper, and everyone sees it when I fire up the iPhone. Sure, the chances of finding a Good Samaritan who won't actually take the phone home, wipe it, and sell it on eBay are probably pretty slim, but even if those odds are one in ten you might get your phone back in one piece.

So, those are the things I learned after losing my iPhone, other than how to NOT lose an iPhone. If any TUAW readers have ideas that can help others who may fall into this predicament in the future (or have successfully used a commercial recovery tool such as Orbicule's Undercover), don't hesitate to help us all out by leaving those hints in the comments section below.

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