Tracking apps could help find stolen smartphones


Police say installing a tracking is your best chance of getting your phone back from a thief. But how likely are you to find the guy who ran off with it? We tried one out for ourselves.

You're walking with your iPhone, texting on a bus, plugged in to your earbuds. You are also risking theft.

"What we see is most of our robberies that occur in the city involve some sort of a smartphone," said SFPD officer Albie Esparza.

There were more than 1,000 phone robberies in San Francisco from January to August alone. Resident Antoine Brooks says it happened to him on Muni train, "He just reached down and he grabbed the phone and he took off like he was some kind of world class track star."

Officer Esparza advises, "The best thing, again, is to have the applications to track the device." Police recommend an app like one called Find My iPhone.

Can it really find your phone? We tried it out. Two ABC7 interns took off with our iPhone. Intern Lisa Lee's job is to find it. She logged on to Find My iPhone. It showed the device, called Noni's phone, and it showed her location with a green dot. Zooming in, you can see where the phone was, at the corner of Davis and Jackson streets.

Lisa drove to the spot, using another iPhone to track it down. The map showed the phone inside the green area, in Walton Park. Lisa walked all around the park, but our thieves weren't there.

"They should be on Davis and Jackson, which is exactly where we are," Lisa said. "And I was thinking they should be right there, but I don't see them."

Eventually Lisa hit the button to make the alarm go off on the stolen phone, but she couldn't hear anything but street noise.

Finally we gave her a little hint -- the thieves were inside a coffee shop. Now she's getting warmer. She hit the alarm button again, and this time, eureka! We found Noni's phone inside a café, though it required a little cheating.

Lisa says it's still a worthwhile app, but you just have to realize the locator isn't all that precise, "So I was running around like a crazy person inside the park, looking for them, and they were watching me across the street from inside a coffee shop!" said Lisa.

Find My iPhone is a free app already on your phone, though you do need to activate it. Android, Blackberry, and Microsoft all have tracking apps, too.

Police say the tracking apps have helped them locate thieves. The app is also useful because it allows you to wipe your data off your phone from a remote location. So your identity won't be stolen too.

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