If you’ve ever had your mobile stolen you'll know how traumatic the experience can be. Often the loss of a £300-600 smartphone is actually the least stressful thing about the theft. What victims find themselves most worried about is that now the thief could potentially have access to all the data on their phones, which include not only usernames and passwords to sites and other important account information (like banking apps), but also our personal photos, phone numbers, addresses, and pretty much our entire social history.
That’s why many out there will probably welcome the news that Apple, Google, HTC, Huawei, Motorola, Microsoft, Nokia and Samsung have announced they--along with mobile carriers--have pledged that every device sold after July 2015 will feature the ability to be remotely wiped by the user and rendered inoperable if the user so chooses.
But as someone who relies on his iPhone hourly, I don’t want to wait for 2015. That’s why I’ve tested out the best anti-theft apps on the market to find how iPhone users can get tomorrow's benefits today.
Find My iPhone (free)
Find My iPhone is the anti-theft software made by Apple--and it’s probably the reason the company signed on so quickly to making sure smartphones can be remotely wiped by 2015. That’s because Find My iPhone has allowed users to do just that for several years now.
Anyone who has an iPhone (or iPad, iPod touch, or Mac--Find My iPhone works on all of them) should download this free app right away. If your device is ever lost or stolen you can see its location on a map, lock the device remotely, and even choose to wipe it remotely. You can do all this from logging into your iCloud account using your Apple ID from the web or any other iOS device running the Find My iPhone app.
What’s great about the recent improvements to Find My iPhone is that even if the thief turns off the iPhone, Find My iPhone will automatically show the last several locations of the device before it was shut off. Another nice feature is the app will show you driving directions on how to get to the location of your stolen iPhone --just let the police handle things after that.
Prey Anti Theft (free download, but £20.99 subscription required)
Prey Anti Theft is arguably more robust than Find My iPhone, but it’s also potentially much more expensive. The things I really love about Prey Anti Theft is its ability to take photos with the front and rear iPhone camera. This means you could potentially snap a picture of the thief as they're using your device. The app tracks your iPhone via GPS and Wi-Fi triangulation and automatically gathers network data, so you can capture the Wi-Fi name of the wireless network, for example, that the thief is connected to. This, combined with the picture taking capabilities, should be more than enough evidence to identify the thief.
While all the above features are free to any user, if you want more advanced features you’ll need to fork out £20.99 a year for a subscription. The subscription nets you on-demand real time reports with the information being sent to you remotely over secured SSL. You also get access to the company’s email support team and “Active Mode” which allows you to see when your iPhone last checked in.
Hidden Anti Theft (free download, but £14.99 subscription required)
Hidden Anti Theft is an app that, while not as robust as the subscription-based Prey Anti Theft, it’s arguably more clever. Like Prey, the app tracks your stolen iPhone based on GPS and Wi-Fi geolocation data. It also features the ability to take photos using the front-facing camera--but here’s where the genius of that comes in.
In order to get a good shot of the thief Hidden will trigger a fake alarm clock message that needs to be viewed and dismissed with a tap of a button. This calls the thief’s attention to the screen--lining up a perfect shot. When the thief taps the dismiss button a photo is automatically taken.
iGuard: Anti-Theft (£0.69)
Unlike the three apps above, which all help you retrieve your stolen phone, iGuard: Anti-Theft actually works to help stop your iPhone from being stolen in the first place. The app works by using the iPhone’s motion sensors, such as the built-in gyroscope, to detect movement.
Activating the app--say, when you’re at a coffee house and place your iPhone in your bag or on the table--tells it to be alert for sudden movement. If a potential thief would swipe it from the table or pickpocket it from your bag iGuard would sense the movement and send out a piercing siren and also begin flashing the iPhone’s screen and camera flash. The alarms can’t be disabled without the user entering their four-digit pin.
NotMyPhone is perhaps the most full-featured app of any of the anti-theft ones we’ve tried. That’s because it combines both theft prevention and theft recovery. For starters, the app works as a motion alarm, but in several unique ways. Like iGuard, NotMyPhone uses the iPhone’s gyroscope to detect unwanted movement and if it is lifted from your possession it will immediately send out a piercing alarm and begin flashing the screen and camera flash.
However, NotMyPhone goes a step further than iGuard by also making use of the iPhone’s proximity detector. That’s the sensor that detects if the iPhone is held up against your face so it knows to shut off the screen when you are speaking on the phone. By placing your iPhone upside down, or covering it with a shirt or newspaper, the proximity sensor is engaged and NotMyPhone can then send out alerts as soon as the proximity sensor is disengaged, which would happen once someone picks it up.
The app also sends out secure emails of the stolen iPhone’s location along with pictures of the thief’s face.
One final word of caution about all the apps listed above. While you may be angry and tempted to confront the thief directly, we strongly urge you to go to the police first with the information these apps have revealed and let them handle the situation.