Daniel Eran Dilger
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MobileMe pushes out new Find My iPhone, Remote Wipe service

MobileMe Push

Prince McLean, AppleInsider

Announced at WWDC, Apple’s new Find My iPhone and Remote Wipe services went online today with the warning that high traffic to the site might slow or prevent access for users trying it out on launch day. The site appears to be up intermittently and yet not actually functional yet

MobileMe pushes out new Find My iPhone, Remote Wipe service
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Accessible to MobileMe subscribers under the Account icon, and therefore within the portion of MobileMe that is SSL encrypted, the Find My iPhone and Remote Wipe page was intermittently unavailable to some users today, who temporarily received the notice “MobileMe Account is currently unavailable. We apologize for this service interruption and are working hard to resolve the problem.”

Subsequent attempts to access the new site were successful by late morning however.

Last year, Apple rolled out an ambitious suite of web apps and push messaging features while rechristening its .Mac service as MobileMe in conjunction with the iPhone 2.0 launch. The result was a black eye for the new service, as users experienced delays and problems significant enough for Apple CEO Steve Jobs to offer apologies and free subscription extensions for members.

Since then, the MobileMe service has steadily improved, still lacking in some areas such as SSL encryption for all messaging features, but in many respects leading the industry in cloud services and push messaging. Apple is the only company with a significant paid subscriber base among consumers, with Microsoft and others struggling to float free-for-now services that offer much less.

This year, the standout features added to MobileMe have the potential to dramatically boost the reputation of the service and polish the iPhone with further differentiation, as long as the company can roll them out without the outages and problems of the previous launch.

Find My iPhone

Using the new MobileMe features requires activating the service on an iPhone running the new iPhone 3.0 software. Because the service is based on Apple’s standards-based XMPP/PubSub Push Notification Server, the push messages it uses work as instant messaging pings rather than SMS messages. This allows it to work on both iPhones and the iPod touch when connected to WiFi access; it uses but does not require mobile phone service.

To obtain the iPhone’s location, the MobileMe site sends a push notification alert to the iPhone or iPod touch. The device then obtains its current coordinates from Location Services using GPS, cell tower, and/or WiFi base station triangulation and reports this to MobileMe, which presents the location on a map to authenticated subscribers.

After activating the Find My iPhone feature from the MobileMe push settings (shown below) buried on under Settings / Mail, Contacts, Calendars as an account configuration, a visit to the MobileMe site still maintained that the location of the phone was not available. “Your iPhone is not connected to a data network, or does not have Push enabled,” the site reported confidently. The Update Location button used to send an update ping was disabled.

MobileMe Push

Display a Message or Play a Sound

A second button, Display a Message, was not disabled. That feature allows users to “write a message that will appear on your iPhone’s screen. You can also play a sound on your iPhone, even if it is in silent mode.”

The sheet presented to enter your message, limited to 160 characters, also offers to force the lost iPhone to play a sound for 2 minutes (below).

After sending a test message, the MobileMe site reported a notice saying, “your message was sent at 11:57 AM on June 17, 2009. A confirmation email will be sent to you when the message has been displayed on the device.” A half an hour later, the configured iPhone still hadn’t received the message and no emails were received either.

MobileMe Push

Hey is this workin?

The iPhone had just been updated to the new 3.0 software, and still wasn’t receiving the usual push notifications for emails, so we tried a restart of the phone. As soon as it came back up, the phone reported “an important message” and it wasn’t an SMS: it was the “Hey is this workin?” that we’d sent from MobileMe, apparently the first push notification message this phone had ever received.

When we logged back into MobileMe, the map now displayed our current location although the site reported the location current “as of 2:12 PM,” approximately an hour and a half ahead of our actual location on the West Coast. This is odd because MobileMe knows our local time zone and reports other messages using the correct time, such as the time messages were sent to the phone.

We also received our notification email with the message and the time stamps of both when it had been sent and when it had been delivered to the iPhone, both of which were accurate to the local time zone. The message had taken about 40 minutes, but that’s because the phone sat there needing to be reset. A second test message was received within seven minutes minutes.

MobileMe Push

Remote Wipe

A third button, Remote Wipe, says it “will permanently delete all media and data on your iPhone, restoring it to factory settings. This will not suspend your wireless service. Once wiped, your iPhone will no longer be able to display messages or be located”.

Apple’s support page notes “If the iPhone or iPod touch is online (turned on and connected to a data network such as Edge, 3G, or Wi-Fi), information deletion begins within seconds, and a confirmation email that the remote wipe has begun is sent to your MobileMe email account. If the iPhone or iPod touch is offline (not turned on or not connected to a data network), the information will be deleted the next time the device is online.”

The site also points out, “If you later find your iPhone or iPod touch after it has been erased, you can restore your information by connecting the device to your computer and restoring it from a previous backup using iTunes.” The page also warned, “If you don’t expect to later find your iPhone, you should suspend your wireless service through your wireless service provider. If you don’t, you’ll continue to be responsible for any phone calls or other charges incurred.”

MobileMe Push

  • http://www.adviespraktijk.info Berend Schotanus

    To me the “Find my iPhone” service worked instantaneously, after I activated Push notification. Probably because I was early with my update :-)
    It is a nice service but I also have some second thoughts:
    – Push notification increases battery consumption, that’s why I turned it of. Don’t know if Find my iPhone is enough reason to switch it on again.
    – Find my iPhone seems rather fragile against malicious attacks. When a thief knows how an iPhone works it is easy to switch off “Find my iPhone” and prevent a remote wipe.

    Probably Apple will gain a lot of experience with this first installment and come with further improvements later on. Maybe one day achieving the ultimate goal dat an iPhone is not an interesting target to steal.

  • t0m

    Two things – does the Find my iphone need a setting turned on on the iPhone to work? If your phone was lost but not locked, presumably someone could change this.
    The second thing – the volume of the alert (when I tried it) seems to be linked to the ringer volume – if it was on near zero volume, it’s a much quieter sound made. Maybe they’ll flesh out the functionality – we haven’t really seen a defined yearly update cycle for MobileMe, – more dribs and drabs of update.

  • http://home.comcast.net/~daguy daGUY

    Very clever features, with one fatal flaw: if someone steals your iPhone, couldn’t they just go into the settings and turn off the “Find my iPhone” feature (and/or delete the MobileMe account from the phone) before you have a chance to locate it or do a remote wipe?

    At the very least, the ability to disable any of these features from the phone should require a password. Even better, they could move the toggle for these features into iTunes itself, so that they can only be disabled if the phone is plugged into the computer it syncs with.

    Very clever ideas, though. I’m sure they’ll iron out these issues over time.

  • luisd

    At the moment the only option you have is to activate passcode lock. With this on, you need to type a 4 number digit to wake the phone and use it. It is quite annoying to have it like that. You can change the time it takes before the lock becomes active, but there is no way to have a passcode only for the find my iphone feature.

  • http://www.adviespraktijk.info Berend Schotanus

    Another observation with Find my iPhone:
    This afternoon I visited a congress in a hotel 80 km from here. I left the hotel at 8:30PM. I tested “Fond my iPhone” at 11:00PM.
    MobileMe first needed some 30 seconds of thinking. Then it displayed the exact location of the hotel. And then, again after some 30 seconds, it displayed my actuel home location.
    So apparently MobileMe keeps my location in memory.

  • Pingback: Fix for WiFi problems after iPhone 3.0 upgrade — RoughlyDrafted Magazine()

  • http://www.thebasicmind.com TheBasicMind

    Actually you can enter a pass code lock just to prevent the find my iPhone feature from being disabled. It’s just that it’s not very intuitive how you do it. Don’t set up a pass code lock, instead use restrictions. Enter a pass code that needs to be entered to access restricted features then switch off “allow Location”.

    Voila.

    This ensures the Location Services option on the main settings screen is greyed out and can’t be changed (it doesn’t prevent location services being used which is what I think most people will think – hence my comment that it isn’t very intuitive).

    You can’t do the same thing to restrict the option to enable (or disable) push content, however I’ve found this doesn’t seem to affect whether the service can find your iPhone. Even if it is switched off, you can still find your iPhone (perhaps it just takes longer, I haven’t tried benchmarking the different options; or perhaps it is just required for MobileMe it initialise the service but then is no longer required once it is done.).

    [Thanks, that’s a useful thing to point out – unfortunately, there aren’t yet any restricts for similarly blocking access to change Push settings or your MobileMe account information. Turning on restrictions will however prevent a another user from resetting your settings from the phone, although it doesn’t stop them from restoring the phone from iTunes. – Dan]