'My iPhone's Been Stolen!'

PHOTO A screen grab is shown from the "Mobile Me" iPhone application that assists users in finding their lost iPhones.Handout
A screen grab is shown from the "Mobile Me" iPhone application that can assist users in finding their lost iPhones.

With a little less than six months remaining, I still proudly claim membership in that hippest of demographic cohorts -- American adults under age 30 -- 60 percent of whom told the Pew Research Center in a study this month that they consider a cell phone a necessity of life, ranking it twice as essential to modern existence as a television set.

While the Pew folks didn't specifically ask, my hunch is that among youthful, urban iPhone users like me, the rate of those considering a cell phone a "necessity" is much, much higher.

Because to those of us who own them, iPhones are everything.

They hold all of our contacts, play our favorite music, take pictures, keep us in touch with the world pretty much no matter where we are, get us from one place to another, and increasingly contain the entirety of most of our daily conversations with friends and relatives -- conducted not by voice, but via text. I could go on, of course, but you get the idea.

Cost and antenna and network exclusivity issues aside (blah-blah-blah), the millions of us who have been devoted to the Apple smartphone since its 2007 debut -- and I've owned one of every iteration -- are of the same mind: we are enamored with our iPhones.

To love an iPhone and lose one is to be socked in the gut in a panic-inducing, knock-the-wind-out-of-you blow.

To have one stolen, and then watch as it moves on a screen further and further away, only intensifies the pain.

As a reporter who travels in the field alone, I carry several electronic devices at all times -- thousands of dollars worth of gear, including two other phones. Haven't lost any of it yet.

I never lose things. Ever.

(I mean, I lost my wallet in a cab once about six years ago. But a nice Swedish lady found it, called me in the office the next day and returned it with nothing -- not a dollar -- missing.)

So I'm either very conscientious or just plain lucky.

That's why this morning, my breathing stopped the moment I felt a terrifying, discernible lightness in the front right pocket of my workout pants.

I know had the iPhone when I was downstairs in the lobby of my apartment building reading the paper. I know, because I had sent a friend a text message. I know, because he'd responded with something funny. (What he said, I no longer recall.)

I hadn't used the phone since I'd come back upstairs, so it must have slipped out of my pocket.

I grabbed my two work cells -- a 2006 model of lesser brand on another network, and a Blackberry -- and started calling myself as I stalked my apartment, hoping that the ring I heard in the earpiece would be matched with a reassuring ring tone within earshot.


I jumped into the elevator and bolted downstairs, dialing and redialing as I retraced my steps.


I tore apart the couch in the lobby where I'd been sitting, looking underneath and around it.


I asked the man at the front desk if anyone had turned in a missing iPhone.


By this point, I was late for work, so I headed into the newsroom, carrying only two other phones and feeling remarkably naked.

Now, I had taken special precautions with this device, my third iPhone purchase since I waited in line for the initial rollout three years earlier. I installed a special app that allowed me to put the ABC logo on the home screen, with a note to call my extension in the office if the phone were ever found. And, I remembered, I had set up Mobile Me, a subscription-based service that syncs the contacts and appointments on your phone with your computer. It also allows you to track the phone if it were ever lost.

There was no voicemail at my desk, so I loaded up the Mobile Me website, entered my password, clicked "Find my iPhone" and held my breath.

There on my screen appeared a Google map with a blue dot surrounded by a wide blue field -- the sight so familiar to us who use the Maps app to pinpoint our present locations. As the GPS field narrowed to find my phone, I could immediately tell something wasn't right. The blue dot was in a different quadrant of the city -- Northeast Washington -- about 20 blocks and a world away from my apartment building. And it was moving.

I gasped.

"My iPhone's been stolen!" I shouted in the newsroom.

Colleagues began to gather around my computer, and we watched the blue dot move with each refresh, farther from us, and deeper and deeper into the bad neighborhoods closer to the District line.

"What are you going to do?" an assignment editor asked.

"You'd better call the police," said my bureau chief.

I reached for the phone to call the DC cops, but something stopped me.

The powerlessness I had felt for more than an hour suddenly faded away. With the knowledge that my phone was not merely lost, but stolen, I had become emboldened.

Mobile Me allows you to take advantage of special features that can remotely control the phone. I instantly locked it, rendering it useless without a special passcode that I devised on the spot. And I was able to send the thief a message.

"You are holding a STOLEN phone, and I'm onto you," I wrote, ordering up a special audible alarm that would ring for two whole minutes. "You are traveling on Bunker Hill Rd and I'm calling the police."

I told the dispatcher that the phone had crossed into Prince George's County, Maryland, and seemed to be stationary at an intersection right off US Route 1 in Hyattsville. I cross-referenced the location in Google and found an auto body shop on that corner.

A DC police officer finally came an hour later to take my report. I met him on the street, a scene that made one colleague think I was being arrested.

The cop was sympathetic, but quick to note that iPhones are stolen all the time, that the creeps are almost never caught, and that since I didn't actually see who took my phone, I'd never be able to pick out the thief.

I brought him up to my office to show him the blue dot, but that didn't much impress him, either. What was he supposed to do, the cop asked, send another jurisdiction's officers to an intersection and have them walk every few yards calling my cell phone until they heard it ring? (He also suggested that would be a bad idea for me to try.)

I nodded, wished him well, and said I hoped the rest of his shift was as easy as this.

Sadly, that's pretty much where my story ends.

Because it was important to move on, and not risk the thieves getting access to whatever I had on my beloved smartphone, I ordered its memory remotely wiped and then promptly suspended the network service. This disabled the tracking ability and rendered the phone lost forever.

Since I'm not eligible for an AT&T upgrade for another year, I had to pay full retail price -- $599 -- for my replacement iPhone, a gleaming new 4.0 with 16 gigabytes of memory.

At the moment, I'm looking into filing a claim with my renter's insurance, especially since the phone was taken from my apartment building. But I'm prepared to write it off as a learning experience if necessary.

For what it's worth, I do appreciate knowing for certain that I was a victim of theft. As draining and expensive as this experience has been, hours of couch-cushion-tossing and self-flagellation over where I may have left the phone -- (Did I really look everywhere? Maybe someone's returned it today!) -- never had to manifest themselves.

Once I saw that blue dot moving on the screen, I knew.

The author is a radio correspondent for ABC News.