It's a gut churning moment when you reach for your iPhone or iPad only to discover that it's gone. Did you leave it at work, on the bus, or has someone deftly removed it from your pocket? Thankfully, Apple has a service called Find My iPhone that helps track your iPhone's location. But what if you didn't notice in time, and now the battery is dead? That's what Send Last Location is for. Here's how to track an iPhone, iPad or Mac and find a lost device even if the battery has died.

Find My iPhone is free, easy to set up, and quite possibly the most valuable app on your iPhone. It also works on your iPad and Mac, so you can keep track of all your Apple devices. With Find My iPhone turned on, your iPhone connects to the internet and broadcasts its location. You can use another iOS device or iCloud.com to find it.

And if you hadn't noticed that your phone was missing and you suspect that the battery has now died or someone may have turned it off, there may still be a way to find it thanks to a feature called Send Last Location.

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Update 8 November 2016: First spotted by CNBC, Apple has a new patent that allows a stolen or lost iPhone to be switched on remotely. This is to transmit location information to its owner through the Find My iPhone feature.

This means that Apple is working to help you track down an iPhone that's been stolen or lost. Even if the iPhone is low on battery, the thief that might want to erase all the data off the iPhone, would need to connect it to a computer to wipe it.

We're not sure when or if this feature will be employed by Apple in their current or next generation iPhones, but we will be sure to update this article when we gather more information.

How to track an iPhone, iPad or Mac: Find a lost iPhone using Find My iPhone

Like many of the advanced features in iOS 10, Find My iPhone uses iCloud to store and sync data, so you'll need an iCloud account to use the service. The chances are you already have one, as Apple prompts you to create one when you first set up your iPhone or iPad. To check, go to Settings > iCloud and you should see your account name listed. If not, just follow the instructions on screen to set up an account. You just need to remember that Find My iPhone uses your Apple ID email address to associate devices with your account, so you'll need to use the same one on all of them.

Turning on Find My iPhone itself is then very simple. In Settings choose iCloud and then scroll down to Find My iPhone. Tap it and then tap the switch so that it's green – that means Find My iPhone is active.

Underneath Find My iPhone you'll also see another option entitled Send Last Location. This means that your iPhone will send location data to Apple just before it runs out of battery, as we explain in more detail later in this article. Slide the switch across to enable this feature.

One last thing to check is that Location Services have been enabled, as this allows your devices to be tracked by the Find My iPhone app. Go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services to make sure. You can turn off Location Services for individual apps if you'd prefer to keep your location private from certain applications.

How to use Find My iPhone: Download the Find My iPhone app (iOS 8 or earlier)

find my iphone

Alongside the Settings on your iPhone for Find My iPhone, you can use the Find my iPhone app. Those running the latest version of iOS should already feature the app, as it was made a default app in iOS 9, but is also available to download via the App Store for older users. The app is useful as it automatically shows you the locations of any devices using your Apple ID, as long as they have Find My iPhone activated. Launch the app and you'll be prompted to sign in with your Apple ID, and then you'll be shown a map with your devices listed. This is particularly useful if you've lost your iPhone, as it means you can use your iPad with the Find My iPhone app installed to find it.

How to use Find My iPhone: Using the Find My iPhone app

When you've selected a device, you have a few choices open to you. Tapping Actions will show you several options. The first is an icon of a car, which will take you to the Maps app and plot a route directly to your iPhone.

The next option is Play Sound, which will do exactly that. This is most useful if you've lost your iPhone somewhere around the house, or are having trouble tracking it down when you reach the location after following the route plotted on Maps. Tapping the icon will cause your iPhone to beep loudly, making it easier to find.

Lost Mode enables you to enter a passcode to remotely lock the device. This prevents anyone who finds your iPhone from gaining access to your data. You can unlock it using the same code when you finally recover the device.

The final choice is Erase Phone, which as the name suggests is something of a nuclear option. Tapping this will wipe all data from the device and should only really be used if you think it's been stolen, or has particularly sensitive information stored onboard. As this deletes all information, including your Apple ID, once you press that the device will disappear from your Find My iPhone list, and most likely your life.

How to use Find My iPhone on your computer

If you don't have another Apple device, that doesn't mean you can't track your iPhone down. The iCloud website (https://www.icloud.com/) gives you access to Find My iPhone, alongside other features such as iWork apps, Mail, Calendar and iCloud Drive. To use it, simply log in with your Apple ID, launch the Find My iPhone app and you'll see a map with the location of your device displayed. Click the green dot and you'll see the same three options presented to you on the app: Play Sound, Lost Mode and Erase iPhone or iPad.

How to use Find My iPhone: Using Find My iPhone with Family Sharing

find my iphone

It's also possible to find other family members' devices using Family Sharing. To enable this service you need to have Family Sharing set up on your device and for all the other members of your family group to have Find My iPhone switched on. Now, if someone loses their iPhone, the whole family can help track it down.

How to use Find My iPhone: How to turn off Find My iPhone

If you decide that you want to deactivate Find My iPhone, which you'll need to do if you're sending your iPhone off for repair, for example, or if you're concerned about privacy, you can do so by going to Settings > iCloud and then tapping to turn off Find My iPhone.

Turning off iCloud will also turn off Find My iPhone, as will erasing your content and settings by going to Settings > General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings, which you'll want to do if you're selling or giving away your device.

If you're unable to access a device but want to turn off Find My iPhone, you'll need to go to Find My iPhone on iCloud.com, and then click All Devices. Choose the device you wish to remove and then click Remove from Account or the 'x' button.

If that device comes online again it'll reappear in Find My iPhone – if this happens and you're unable to access the phone to turn off Fine My iPhone properly, you can click All Devices and then click Erase. This will completely wipe the iPhone or iPad the next time it's online (although credit card information stored on Apple Pay-enabled devices should be removed immediately even if your phone is offline), so none of your information will be accessible to whoever now has the device and it'll also be removed from Find My iPhone. You'll then need to enter your Apple ID password.

Once you've erased the device you can click Remove from Account.

How to use Find My iPhone: What to do if your iPhone is stolen

There are a manner of options available to you if your iPhone is stolen. The first is fairly obvious – report it to the police. The police have resources available to help track down the person, especially if Find My iPhone is installed on your phone.

The second option is to register your iPhone with Immobilise. Immobilise.com is a free website where you can register the details of your property – not just your iPhone, but almost anything – by uploading a photo and a description of the item.

It's recommended by police forces throughout the UK and is used when dealing with lost or stolen property. If the property is registered on the Immobilise database, police can identify who the lawful owner is and return their property.

You can also enable Lost Mode on Find my iPhone where you enter a passcode that'll remotely lock your iPhone. If/when your iPhone is retrieved, you simply enter the passcode and your iPhone is unlocked.

If you're fairly sure you're never going to get your iPhone back, you can erase your phone's content remotely – but with it goes the ability to track the phone, so give it some thought before you go ahead with it.

How to find a lost iPhone if the battery is dead: Use Send Last Location

What happens if your iPhone has run out of battery? Because it's no longer connected to the internet, Find My iPhone stops working. So if you lose your iPhone, you have to use Find My iPhone before the battery runs out.

Normally when an iPhone is turned off or has no power, the Find My iPhone feature can't work as there is no signal being sent from the device. This could be heartbreaking if you've left your phone somewhere and the battery drains before you realise its gone.

This can turn using Find My iPhone into a bit of a time challenge. Can you get to another iOS device or internet connection and log on before the battery runs out? If not, you may never know where it is.

Fortunately, there's a lesser-known feature called Send Last Location that really helps in this situation. With Send Last Location you will at least know where it was when the power finally ran out.

Send Last Location is a feature located inside the Find My iPhone settings. Just before the battery runs out it sends the location of the iPhone to the iCloud server. The iPhone doesn't know if you've lost the device or not, so it does this every time the battery is about to run out.

Follow these steps to activate Send Last Location on your iPhone:

  1. Tap Settings.
  2. Tap iCloud.
  3. Tap Find My iPhone
  4. Ensure Find My iPhone is set to On.
  5. Set Send Last Location to On.

We think Send Last Location is a tremendously useful feature, but it's not activated by default (Apple can't or won't collect location data without users' permission) - so this is one measure you need to set up before disaster strikes.

But it's a truly useful feature. Make sure you set it to On, and next time you lose your iPhone you won't have a race against time to find it.

If Send Last Location was turned on when you lost your iPhone, it will show up in Find My iPhone as described in the sections above.

Real life Find My iPhone stories

13-year-old Luca Guerrini-Maraldi experienced something that everyone worries about – stepping off a bus and realising you've left your iPhone on the seat.

When Luca and his nanny got off the bus at Chelsea Town Hall, he realised his iPhone wasn't in his pocket. While most other 13-year-olds would panic about how to tell their parents that they've just lost an expensive phone, Luca decided to do something about it.

According to The London Evening Standard, he dumped his bags and chased after the bus. A taxi driver noticed the distressed schoolboy and offered to follow the bus and track down his iPhone using the Find my iPhone app. The two followed the bus until they hit traffic, but a helpful police officer offered to ride along with Luca and the taxi driver to flag the bus down to get his phone back.

While Luca's story is unconventional and we don't recommend commandeering a black cab to get your iPhone back, it's a great example of how helpful the Find my iPhone app can be.

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