A low-tech way to help you recover a lost phone


Smartphones get misplaced. They’re left behind on restaurant tables, on bus seats, on public washroom counters.

After they’re left behind, it can be tough to track down the owner. Phones are often personalized via cases and stickers. But that personalizing typically does not extend to sticking our names on the phones.

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I have surmised this from a survey of 15 phones, and by looking at the phones people are holding when I’m riding the bus.

We put our names on luggage, on books, on clothing. But when it comes to something that, for many of us, carries the core data of our lives, we do nothing to help with recovery if we lose the thing.

Maybe it’s because there’s no integrated way to elegantly attach a name. Maybe we balk at the loss of privacy if we stick our names on our phones with, say, a piece of tape. Maybe engraving is over the top.

One sort of solution is an electronic tag. But it’s expensive, not particularly straightforward and you have to be within a set distance. There's also Find My iPhone and its kin, which come with the phone.

My low tech alternative involves the image on the lock screen. Smartphones come with a default lock screen image, which you can change. A lot of people have a photo of family members or family pets on the lock screen. Or a photo of a favourite vacation spot.

I created a monotone image that includes one of my email addresses, in the hope that if I misplace the phone, the finder will turn it on, see the email and contact me. (The finder, unless the person is a hacker, won’t be able to go beyond the lock screen to look for identity clues because I’ve enabled a lock code.)

You’ll probably want to limit how much you reveal about yourself on the lock screen — I wouldn’t display my home address and phone number, for example — so, consider using a work email, or setting up an email address dedicated to this purpose.

Be more inventive than me. Take a photo of someone holding your email address, elegantly written on a card. Or just a photo of the card. Or make it an art project; draw or paint something colourful, and incorporate your email into it. Then take a photo of it with your phone, and use that photo on your lock screen.

How do you change your lock screen photo? I am not going to get into that since methods vary so much. Look it up in your manual. It probably starts with going into the phone settings. (On a recent era iPhone, you go to Settings, Wallpaper, Choose a New Wallpaper, then to where you've stored your image, likely in Camera Roll.)

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A reader says he uses a similar technique with his digital camera. Before going on a trip, he writes down a "if found, please contact" message and takes a photo of it.

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More of my articles are here.

How to travel between Victoria and Vancouver on public transit, 2017 ed.

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