Apple App Helps Return Lost iPhones

Apple has introduced a new application that could save the day for anyone who loses an iPhone or iPad. Find My iPhone will tell you where your device is on a map and even command it to make a noise. However, the app is only usable to members of Apple's $99-per-year MobileMe service, which just so happens to have received an upgrade recently.

Apple has made finding a lost mobile iGadget (iPhone, iPad, etc.) easier, unveiling the Find My iPhone iOS application on the iTunes app store.

Downloading the app is free; however, users will need to sign on for membership to MobileMe, Apple's cloud service, at US$99 a year if they want to use the app.

Apple has also added new features to MobileMe.

Lost Is a Four-Letter Word

The new Find My iPhone app works on any iPhone, iPad or iPod touch running iOS 3.1.3 or higher. Naturally, it must be used in conjunction with another iOS device -- a friend's or relative's iPad, for instance -- in order to be of any use.

It lets users locate their lost iPhone or iPad on a map, display a message and, optionally, play a sound on their misplaced device for two minutes at full volume, even if its volume was turned off.

Users can also remotely set a passcode lock on the device or lock it using their existing passcode. Find My iPhone also lets users remotely wipe a lost device.

The app automatically signs users out after 15 minutes of inactivity; alternatively, users can sign out manually at any time.

Using Find My iPhone requires idevice owners to subscribe to MobileMe at $99 a year. They must first set up their MobileMe accounts and turn on Find My iPhone in each device they want to locate.

Been There, Seen That

"These Find My iPhone app features are what you'd have got if you'd signed on to MobileMe in the desktop browser previously," Laura DiDio, principal at ITIC, who owns both an iPhone and an iPad, told MacNewsWorld.

"You can theoretically put a lost device's location on a map, but I wonder how that will work if it's fallen into a puddle or a ditch," DiDio said. "Still, at least you could remotely wipe out all your data, which is a great security feature," she added.

"These features in Find My iPhone -- remote wipe, remote lock, putting its location on a map -- are all available on other platforms, except for the sound trigger, but they're all enterprise offerings that aren't available to individual consumers," Chris Hazelton, a research director at the 451 Group, told MacNewsWorld.

The security features in the Find My iPhone app might help iPhone and iPad users in the enterprise -- if they activate them.

About 50 percent of 600 respondents to a global survey ITIC conducted recently said they were worried about the security of the iPhone, DiDio said. However, only 23 percent of those expressing concern said they were taking appropriate security measures to secure conversations and data on their iPhones.

MobileMe, MobileYou

Apple also added several new features to the MobileMe service itself.

It now offers users a choice of widescreen or compact views; rules to help them organize their email on their iPhones, iPads, iPod touches, Macs and PCs; 20 GB of storage space; and 200 GB of monthly data transfer.

The service also offers single-click message archiving, a formatting toolbar, SSL (Secure Socket Layer) protection for email and a Web-based photo gallery.

New features are support for external email addresses, and improved junk mail filtering places suspected spam messages directly in the "Junk" folder.

Apple is offering a 60-day free trial of the service

In the Mail

MobileMe's email service has been brought out of beta with new features. These include an interface redesign that sets email default to a three-column view with folders on the left, a message list in the middle and a reading pane on the right -- apparently much like the interface present in Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) Outlook's Inbox view with the navigation pane enabled.

Apple has also added a feature that lets MobileMe members send email from an external address. This feature has been available in Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and Yahoo (Nasdaq: YHOO) Mail Plus for awhile.

Users can now click the cloud icon at the top left to display a MobileMe app switcher. They can use a mouse or keyboard to select MobileMe apps in the switcher.

The update, however, didn't appear to cover all conceivable bases: "It's interesting that Apple doesn't have mobile Web access to MobileMe," the 451 Group's Hazelton pointed out.

On the other hand, MobileMe does offer some value for its $99 fee.

"Microsoft and Palm (Nasdaq: PALM) both offer free device backup but don't provide the ability to remotely lock or wipe a device," Hazelton said. "For consumers who don't connect to Microsoft Exchange, the ability to remotely lock or wipe their devices if they lose them is worth the $99."

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