Find My iPhone Just Leveled Up

No gadget left behind

Key Takeaways

  • iOS 15 lets you track your iPhone even when it’s switched off—or reset.
  • Separation alerts tell you when you forget to take something with you.
  • Privacy is as good as ever.
A man turning off Find My iPhone.

 Sirinarth Mekvorawuth / EyeEm / Getty

Hey phone thieves: even if you switch off an iPhone now, it can still be tracked.

In iOS 15, Apple has made it possible to track an iPhone via the Find My network, even when it's powered off. The old way of tracking a lost or stolen iPhone was for the phone to report its position every once in a while, so you could find it on a map. This was easily thwarted by switching the iPhone off immediately after nabbing it. And even for plain old lost iPhones, you'd only be able to track it until the battery ran down.

The new way is much better and shows how much Find My has improved in iOS 15. And it doesn't even add any new privacy problems,

"iPhones will continue to be a target of theft, but the rate of these thefts should decrease thanks to this new feature," network engineer Eric McGee told Lifewire via email.

Find My iPhone 4Ever

The trick to finding a powered-off iPhone is that it’s not really off. Instead, when powered down, the iPhone will keep emitting a Bluetooth blip, just like an AirTag. This anonymous, encrypted blip gets picked up by any passing Apple device and uploaded to the company's servers, where it sits until you need it. 

When you fire up iOS 15’s new Find My app, it queries Apple’s servers for this saved blip, passes it on to you, and then you—and only you—get to see where that passing iPhone spotted it. AirTags last for a year or more on a single coin cell, so an iPhone’s giant battery should be good for much longer, even if it’s not full. And this keeps on working, even if the iPhone is erased, which is pretty wild.

Worried about your location being tracked, even if you have the phone switched off? No problem. You can disable it in settings. It’s also possible to have the iPhone send its location whenever the battery gets critically low.

Find My Levels Up

This addition is just one of the improvements to Find My in iOS 15. Another is Live Tracking. You know how when you share your location with someone, and it can take forever for that location to update on the map? Live Tracking does what it says it does, giving you live updates of a person's position. This is all strictly opt-in, and it's a great way to find people when you're all wandering around, trying to meet up. 

This feature works in a more obvious manner than AirTags. When someone shares their location with you, their phone sends its current coordinates. 

And perhaps even better is the separation-warning feature (or it will be when it's done). Open up the Find My app and tap on one of your devices. A new option lets you get an alert if you leave a location without that device. 

For example, say you leave a café and have your iPhone in your pocket, but somehow left your iPad on a chair. You'll get a warning to tell you so. You also can set up locations that don't trigger a warning—your home, for example, or your office.

Someone holding an AirTag and looking at it's location using the Find My network on Apple.

Đức Trịnh / Unsplash

"Thanks to Separation Alerts, you may never need the Find My feature," writes the How To Geek on Twitter

Right now, these warnings don't work with AirPods, but that should change sometime in the fall when Apple finishes adding the feature. And that's going to be great, because who wants to leave home without their AirPods? It even works with the Apple Watch—you can get an alert on the watch to warn you when you leave your iPhone behind, for example. 

Better and Better

Find My is already a modern marvel, one that's used in movies and TV shows to track phones and by real people to find their lost and stolen gear. But now, just by letting the hundreds of millions (perhaps even billions) of Apple devices in the world look out for each other, Apple has built a vast Find My network.

This allows all kinds of neat features, as we've seen above. Soon, it will be almost impossible to lose or misplace your devices, and with AirTags, that even applies to your house keys. This level of tracking would be creepy from any other vendor, but from Apple, we can be pretty sure it's all as it says it is, privacy-wise. It's a rare win-win for everyone—except the bad people.

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