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.
"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.