Google’s big tech show, Google I/O, last week exploded information all over the internet. The company confirmed plans for an insanely expensive folding phone. Revealed and immediately put on sale a sensibly-priced mid-range handset that instantly earned a place in our best smartphones list. And it announced a rather nice tablet it will probably forget about in a month, and that inexplicably and unreasonably costs a hundred quid more in the UK than in the USA. But what grabbed my attention was a much smaller announcement: Find My Device.
But wait, you might say. You already have Google Find My Device installed. Well, yes – the app has long been an option on Android devices. And it gives you a fighting chance of rapidly finding an Android phone that’s inconveniently slipped down the back of a random sofa. This is, as you can imagine, much better than scouring every inch of your home. However, this revamp of Find My Device does something new. Well, it does something old, in that it rips off Apple. But in doing that, it brings something new to Android.
Hide and seek
If you’ve not used Apple’s Find My before, the concept is simple. Imagine you’ve accidentally abandoned one of your devices further afield than within earshot. You can find it using what Apple calls the Find My network. This comprises hundreds of millions of Apple devices dotted around the world.
Through the magic of technology, location services, low-energy Bluetooth, and probably some kind of arcane ritual, this can pinpoint your device, so you can go and get it. Or look aghast as you discover it was pilfered in a bar and has been spirited away to a far-flung country. And because this is Apple, the company is all about anonymity and encryption. So the look of relief if you do find your iPhone under a park bench won’t turn to fear through you being surrounded by dozens of wide-eyed loons holding pinging iPhones. All of them slowly chanting “ONE OF US! ONE OF US!”
As I understand it, here‘s how Google’s solution differs from Apple’s: its network uses Android devices rather than iPhones. That’s it. Now, Google has a sketchy relationship with privacy. But the company claims the revamped Find My Device encrypts location data, which means even Google can’t see it. That means no endless adverts from whatever brand happens to be nearby to a retrieved device. “Well done locating your lost phone! Fancy a McDonald’s?”
Super Find My Team Up Special
I’m someone whose memory for item locations is spotty and whose propensity for leaving kit behind is higher than it should be. So I think this is all fantastic. If Google is going to rip off Apple (and vice-versa – let’s not pretend inspiration doesn’t also flow in the other direction), it may as well be over something as important as Find My Device, helping to reunite you with expensive kit.
That said, it’s a pity the two companies haven’t gone further. Apple and Google recently unveiled an initiative to define an industry spec to deal with unauthorized tracking of tiny devices many folks attach to luggage and keys – but that some horrible wretches hide in other people’s belongings to track where they go.
This initiative is necessary and hugely important. It’s also great to see Tile and others fully on board. The tech is now more likely in future to be used as intended – and thwart those who’d use it for ill.
But it’s a pity Apple and Google couldn’t take things a step further and find it within themselves to cooperate even more widely with Find My – combining iPhone and Android networks, thereby making it extremely difficult to lose any device ever again, even when you’re not in iPhone land or Android central. Alas, while companies will (fortunately) do the right thing when someone’s safety is at risk, they aren’t so keen when their own ecosystems are threatened.
• Related Best smartphone 2023: all the top Apple and Android phones reviewed (which will now soon be harder to lose)