I Lost My iPhone 5 in Chicago! Thank you Apple iCloud!

If you were to gather a random group of consumers in a room, provided they don’t work in tech, and asked each of them to define the Cloud in 30 seconds or less, I’d bet money that you’d get a very diverse range of responses. You’d hear things like email is the Cloud, the internet is the Cloud, I store files in the Cloud, I make phone calls using the Cloud, I stream music from the Cloud, and on and on. Actually, now that I think about it, I’d also bet the same would be true if you gathered a random group of technology professionals. The Cloud is a little confusing, and tech companies don’t simplify it with their vague and misleading marketing trying to capitalize on hype and buzz.

Apple does an incredible job consumerizing technology. They simplify technology and provide great experiences that consumers can consume. Consider what they did for the smartphone with the introduction of the iPhone. And then the tablet with the iPad. They didn’t create a brand new technology, they just made it consumable for the masses. I remember seeing TV commercials when I was a kid that ended with the tagline, “We don’t make a lot of the products you buy, we make a lot of the products you buy better”. For me, Apple is the DuPont of the technology world. Apple doesn’t blaze the trail innovating bleeding-edge technologies, they just make them better and very usable for the masses. The Cloud is another great example of this. I would bet that random group of consumers that I mentioned earlier would provide a range of diverse responses defining what the Cloud is, but I’d also bet they have a common thread, and that would be the mention of Apple iCloud.

Where’s Microsoft?

Now you may be wondering why I’m talking about Apple, the iPhone and iCloud here. You might be thinking something like, aren’t you a Microsoft guy and a Microsoft MVP? Shouldn’t you be talking about Windows Phone and Microsoft’s Cloud? Shouldn’t you be talking about services like SkyDrive, Office 365 and Windows Azure? And those are great questions and thoughts.

While I’m a big fan of Microsoft products and services, and lovingly use them daily, including Windows Azure, SkyDrive, Office 365, Windows 8 and many more. I don’t use the Windows Phone daily. Now in full disclosure, I have a Nokia Lumia Windows Phone. The Lumia used to be my daily phone. Before that I had a Samsung Focus. The Focus used to be my daily phone. I was one of those guys who had a spot in the front of the line on launch day, and at the top of the pre-order list to ensure I had one as soon as they were available. And I have to admit that I am a huge fan of the Windows Phone, I think Microsoft did a great job creating a phone that I love to use, but there are practical reasons why I use an iPhone every day and not a Windows Phone. I’ll save that controversy for another day and another post. But if it rights and wrongs, I am writing this post in-flight on my way to Microsoft’s Global MVP Summit in Bellevue, WA using Word 2013, in Windows 8 on my Microsoft Surface RT. I even had a great conversation with one of the flight attendants about Windows 8 and Surface. The Surface is a great device to use on flights with the constraints of tiny tray tables, especially considering my other machine is a massive Lenovo W520, but my W520 is a work horse.

The Incident, Disaster or Whatever You Want To Call It

So having said all of that, this past Thursday, I lost my iPhone in Chicago. I didn’t loose it in the sense that I didn’t know where I left it, I just unfortunately left it on a Chicago Metra train. So the location of where I left it, was sort of a moving target, similar to the goal line of most technology projects. I realized about 10 minutes after I got off the train in downtown Chicago, that I didn’t have my phone, and quickly realized I left it on the seat of the Metra train. I hurriedly went back to the tracks of the Ogilvie train station where they informed me that the train I just got off of has already left, loaded with new passengers on a new journey. They reassured me that it would be back in a few hours, as if that made me feel any better. You have likely misplaced and lost something, and no matter what it is, or what the value of the item is, you know that feeling you get when you lose something. I don’t think it’s so much the act of losing something that creates that feeling, but more likely the thought of someone else taking and keeping whatever it is that you lost, the violation of it and the hassle of replacing it.

Now, if you’ve ever been to Chicago and specifically to the Ogilvie and Union train stations, you know that Chicago transit is not a small thing. In fact it’s a massive operation, with lots of folks managing and coordinating the movement of many, many trains. In Ogilvie alone, there are 15 tracks, with trains going in all directions. So at this point, I’m not panicing, but I’m a little worried and here’s why. I wasn’t really concerned with losing the phone, but I was a little concerned with data on my phone getting into the wrong hands. Yeah, it still sucks to lose a $650 device, but at the end of the day, it’s replaceable. The data and access that could be obtained from any of my mobile devices, would be a nightmare to deal with.

I have enabled the PIN lock and secured my phones for a few years now. I started enabling security on my mobile devices after someone stole my backpack full of multiple laptops, mobile devices and gadgets, from the backseat of my car, by busting out a window in the parking garage at Chicago’s Soldier Field. But you know how it is when years pass and you get over an incident like that. You start to get comfortable, complacent and ignore the lessons learned. Well that’s how I had gotten with my phone. The convenience of not having a PIN lock was nice, and since purchasing an iPhone 5 in October, I have left it unlocked and unsecured.

So my first mission was to determine what, if anything, I could do to secure my iPhone. Once I got to the location of my 8am meeting, I immediately pulled out my Surface, connected to Wi-Fi, and went to www.iCloud.com. I logged in and found some really comforting features.

First, I was able to put my phone into Lost Mode, which allowed me to setup a PIN for my phone and lock it remotely, which I did immediately. At this point, I was much less concerned with my phone just being wide open and accessible to whomever picked it up.

Second, I was able to create a custom message to display on the lock screen of my phone, which started friendly and polite. But as I was creating it, I could already envision this message getting less friendly and polite as time passed, and with my phone not being on the train car where I left it. With the message, you get to provide a phone number for the person who finds your phone to call. And from the lock screen, the only thing they can do is click a Call button that will call the number provided.

So with my phone now locked, and a custom message and callback number on the lock screen, I started to track the movement of my phone. As the morning became the afternoon, I had watched my phone travel all over the Chicago area, but it still seemed to be on the train, since all of the movements were on the train tracks. Right before 1pm, I noticed the train had arrived back at the downtown Chicago Metra station and my phone was sitting still on the tracks. The precision of the location was so great, even underground in the train station, I could even tell which track the train was on. Now on my ride into the city, I had used my phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot with no regard to battery life, knowing that as soon as I got to my destination, I would be able to plug in and recharge. So when I got to the city, about half of my battery had already been consumed. As you can imagine, I didn’t expect to leave it on the train. Another really nice feature of iCloud Lost Mode is that you can see the remaining battery life on your device. The Lost Mode feature that continuously reports status and location seems to rapidly consume the battery, and at this point my remaining battery life was at 1%. I knew that if I was going to have a chance of recovering my phone, this was the moment, Carpe Diem. So I called the Metra lost and found folks at Ogilvie, explained the situation, and asked if they could go check the train to see if my phone was still there. And in a matter of minutes, I saw my phone was moving and stopped at the Ogilvie ticketing window. And shortly thereafter, the callback number received a call from my iPhone, and it was safe and sound.

Now those of you who are software developers, and especially those of you building mobile apps and complex messaging services realize that what is occurring under the covers isn’t really rocket science. But Apple delivered a very useful and delightful experience with the Cloud. They made is possible for me to communicate with my mobile device miles away, enable and configure security, and provide some instructions for the person who found it. They also enabled me to put my device into a state that reported its current location and kept track of the history. And my phone also made me aware of its remaining battery life, which in this scenario was very useful input that guided my decisions and the actions that I took to recover it. And all of this was enabled by the Cloud, via messaging technologies and location-based services.

Three Takeaways

Now I tell you this story of my mistakes and errors to help be most effective without having to go through the challenges and pain that would cause you to learn these lessons the hard way. And with that, I want to leave you with the following three takeaways.

One, as you create applications, find ways to delight your customers with amazing user experiences using readily available technologies. This will go a long way to boost customer satisfaction, loyalty and will create raving fans that blog about their awesome experiences and influence those they know towards your product or service.

Two, consider how the Cloud can enable new user experiences that haven’t been readily available to companies of all shapes and sizes. Things like messaging, continuous experiences across devices and platforms, file storage, collaboration, single-sign on, scalability for application performance and geographic reach, and even offloading intensive compute operations.

Three, SECURE YOUR MOBILE DEVICES. Don’t wait to learn the hard way like I’ve done.