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The latest update to Apple's iOS operating system includes a free service that can locate, lock, or erase your missing or stolen mobile device.

Apple has released, after much delay, a new version of its operating system for the iPhone and iPad that finally brings "multitasking" to the iPad, in addition to a number of other features that iPhone users already have had at their disposal.
But aside from all the usual bells and whistles, there's one feature that the forgetful will really appreciate. Apple has made its "Find My iPhone" service free, instead of tying it to the MobileMe subscription service.  The service is also available for the iPad with the new release.
By setting up a "Find My iPhone" or "Find My iPad" account, iPhone and iPad owners can go to a web page that will display on a map the GPS location of their device if they've mislaid it.  What's more, the service now works with the new (4th generation) iPod Touch, which includes GPS.
The service can also be configured to display a message on the screen of the device when it's turned on—such as an offer for a reward for return.  It  can also remotely lock the device with a passcode so anyone who happens to obtain it can't get to the information on it or place calls with it, or remotely delete your data from the device.
The Find My iPhone service can be configured from the settings menu of each device. Once you've set up the service, you can also enable it on any other device that runs iOS 4.2, so you can track your iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch all from the same account.
The free service also kills the business model for developers who have created alternatives to the "Find My iPhone" service, such as Device Locator—a $3 app for the iPhone apparently based on Google's Lattitude.
There are some limitations to the service.  Obviously, the GPS locator only works if your phone or iPad is turned on.  And as we've found from personal experience with stolen iPhones—my son has had two stolen over the past few years—the service doesn't do much good if someone resets the device to factory default settings and wipes it.  But if you've simply mislaid it, and it's found by a good Samaritan, the service can be a lifesaver—and for many people, it's been the main reason to subscribe to Apple's MobileMe service.

 

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