The iPad Pro is the best computer to lose at a rest stop at 1AM

I planned to spend today finishing up my artist's review for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. Instead, I'm writing this article from a Frank Pepe's parking lot off I-95, after a stressful-but-successful mission to rescue my iPad Pro, which I accidentally abandoned at a Connecticut rest stop last night.

I know. I'm the worst.

The story

After a fun weekend down in DC with Providence Roller Derby playing two incredibly hard-fought games against the roller derby teams from Washington DC and Cleveland, OH, I spent most of the car ride home excited to get back to writing about the iPad Pro and its 9.7-inch sibling; I even pulled out the 12.9-inch model to do some note-taking during the drive.

And then, in a late-night haze during our last rest stop of the evening, I did the unthinkable: I left the Pro on a Subway counter. I didn't realize I had done so until this morning, when I went to gather my things to go to a local coffee shop to write — only to realize that my iPad wasn't among them.

Horror, panic, iCloud.com

Losing any item is heart-wrenching, especially if it has any sort of sentimental or physical value. When you lose a device, you go through the same emotions: shock that the iPad's gone, disbelief that it's not actually among your things, horror that you were so stupid to leave it somewhere, and acceptance that it's lost.

But with an Apple device, you have an ace up your sleeve that a favorite sweatshirt lacks: Find My iPhone. Despite its iPhone-centric name, the free iCloud.com service actually covers all iOS and Mac devices; to activate it, you need only an Apple device logged in to your iCloud account. As long as your iPhone, iPad, or Mac is on and connected to the Internet, it will broadcast a GPS signal that you can view via iCloud.com or the Find My iPhone (opens in new tab) app on any other iOS device.

Once I realized that my iPad was indeed not in my house, I raced up the stairs to our office and fired up iCloud.com on my Mac. As I went over over the road trip in my head, there were only two places I could have left it: our last rest stop in Connecticut, or my teammate's car. iCloud confirmed that I did in fact leave it more than 100 miles from my house, at the Darien rest stop — and that, miraculously, the iPad was still there.

While I hoped that the iPad was sitting safe and sound in a lost and found area, I wasn't going to take any chances: I immediately remotely locked the device from iCloud.com using the Lost Mode option, and had the iPad display both a quick message that I was on my way to Darien to come pick it up, and my phone number.

A race against the clock

I lost my iPad around 1 a.m. in the early morning hours; as of 11 a.m., it still had half its battery life and a good cellular connection. That meant the service was able to immediately return a location, along with how much battery life the iPad had left before it disconnected.

In theory, I would have more than enough time to hop in my car and rescue my iPad before it disappeared off the grid. But when you've lost a device, you're not just playing against the clock — you're playing against human nature, too. If someone were to pick up my iPad before then, they could just turn it off. That would immediately disconnect it from cellular and present the message "last seen at this time". I was hopeful that because the iPad was still on and at the rest area, it had been put in lost and found, but you never know.

Thankfully, until your battery dies or your device is forceably turned off, Lost Mode not only automatically locks your iOS device and displays information on the screen, it also keeps track of any movement. If my device was taken out of the rest stop, I'd see a red dotted line via iCloud that tracked it from its initial "Lost" location to any new location.

And if the worst happened — my iPad's battery died, or someone turned it off — I could remotely erase all its data to keep my information safe. Not as good as getting my iPad back, but if someone with unscrupulous morals got ahold of my device, at least I could protect its information.

On the road again

I used Find My iPhone's directions button to plot a direct course to my missing device, then drove as fast as speed limits would let me to return to the scene of the accidental abandonment, checking in on my iPad every twenty minutes to make sure it was still broadcasting a location signal.

When I finally got to the rest stop, the iPad was, thankfully, still broadcasting a location from inside its walls. The Find My iPhone signal wasn't precise enough for me to randomly walk around and figure out where it was hiding, so I asked an employee, who directed me to the Subway counter. (Lost and Found lives there, apparently, because it's one of the few restaurants open 24 hours.)

I asked about the iPad to a few bewildered Subway employees, who shrugged and said they'd check. Meanwhile, I whipped out the Find My iPhone app on my iPhone 6s and hit the Play Sound button for my iPad.

From the Subway kitchen, I heard a faint pinging, followed by the Subway manager bringing out my poor, now-found iPad.

"Lucky girl."

Serendipity aligns

I was lucky. I may have been dumb enough to exhaustedly tote my iPad to a rest stop, then leave it on a table at 1 a.m., but one of the employees immediately spotted it and put it back in the Subway lost and found. It probably helped that my Pro currently lives in a bright red Logitech Create case, but if I'd left it during the middle of the day, at peak rest hour times, I suspect it would be someone else's new computer by now.

It's also fortunate that my iPad had a mostly-full ten hour battery and an active data plan: Any Wi-Fi-only devices, including iPads and Macs, will only broadcast a signal when they're connected to a known network. A lost computer won't automatically reach out to an open network, even if there's one available; it has to be one you know or that's been manually connected.

I hadn't charged my iPad during the DC trip, but because I'd used it only lightly during my travels, it still held a 75 percent charge. Had I been traveling with a MacBook Air, my battery would have likely drained while idle; if I had a Wi-Fi-only iPad model, it would have shown up located in the last place I used a Wi-Fi network: a rest stop in Maryland.

Luck had a ton to do with me being able to write this story on my iPad Pro. But I also look back at my iPad Pro Experiments, and think: "Even with the same good Samaritans picking it up, would I have found my computer if it had been the MacBook Air I'd left?"

I might have, if you added many worried calls to various rest areas and stressed driving. But I likely wouldn't have ever seen it again.

At least I know one thing for sure: Next time I go into a rest area while half-asleep, I'm leaving the computer under a sweater in the car. It's probably in less danger waiting for me in a parking lot than accidentally getting left at a Subway in the middle of the night.

Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.

22 Comments
  • Wow lucky you Seren! Good thing that ipad had data capabilities as well but what if someone with bad deeds found it and pop the sim card out and there is no wifi around? So I was thinking if its a good idea to actaully use a type of glue on the sim card's ejector hole so that it hardens and thus prevents the sim from ejecting and so you will know that someone cant tamper with the sim card(including using it for himself). Or if you have the guts you can even super glue the power button so that it cant be shut down (if thats ok with you wasting battery). But where can I find this superhero glue that im thinking of that can stick to the shiny and slippery finish of the ipad? Cons to this:
    -he/she can just turn off the ipad like you suggested but once turned back on then the signal will be back on.
    -the sim will be there foreever unless you drill out the hardened glue and same for the power button.
  • So glad it was still there and you got it back. My boss lost his iPhone recently and because he is a little technologically challenged (to be polite) he called me. I used Find My iPhone to locate it and started "pinging" it while he raced back to the general area I told him it was. Turns out it was in a liquor store (someone found it on the sidewalk) and they had had to move it to a back room because of my near constant pinging it. I became a true believer in Find My iPhone that day.
  • You have taken the "We do these things so you don't have to" philosophy to new a new extreme. Glad you got it back.
  • Wow. This almost makes me replace my iPad for an LTE one.
  • I have two Find My iPhone Stories. Story 1
    My daughter had accidentally dropped her iPhone 5s a few years ago on a train ride home from Yankee Stadium. She had realized it at 9:30PM, more than 2 hours after we got off the train. I quickly turned on Find My iPhone and found it sitting in a train yard in Stamford, CT. I locked the phone and I quickly called the train yard and they said that they would try to locate it. I directed the police officer to where it would be, but there was no train at its supposed location. Dejected, I accepted the fact that the phone, while still there, may take some time to find. At midnight, I got a phone call from an employee cleaning the train that he found my daughter's phone. He called my number, which I listed on the lock screen and said he would turn it into the police. I called the police at the yard and they said they would meet me at a train station about 20 minutes closer to me. I met the officers at 1:30 AM and retrieved my daughter's phone. Relief! Story 2
    Just this past September, daughter just got received an iPhone 6S as a reward for her academics through junior high. Less than a month after getting said phone, some punk in her high school had stolen it out of her pocket. Again, I turned on Find My iPhone and locked the device. I tracked it to an apartment complex. I called the police and told them where it was. Meanwhile, I pinged the device and left a message to return the phone to the high school, no questions asked. Also notified that I know where you live and called the police. Shortly after that, the phone was turned off and never found again. Lesson learned here, don't let them know you can track it. But I get some satisfaction in knowing that the punk was scared shitless and unable to use it since it was locked. Also, fortunately, we had insurance on the phone, due to story 1 above. So lesson learned from my child, who is not normally that irresponsible. Sent from the iMore App
  • But that's kids for you. I can't even imagine what I would have done to an iPhone if it was even an option in the 80s. Blender? Oops! I recently gave my 14 yo daughter my wife's previous iPhone to use until her contract was up and we could buy her a newer one. Three weeks later, she cracked the screen. I had made the mistake of letting her buy cheap cases off of Amazon.com.
  • Wow! That's pretty awesome that it is that good. Glad that you got it back.
  • I'm mostly impressed with the fact that you remembered and stayed calm enough to take screenshots of the "find my iPhone" screen, location, and the lost mode message you sent. I would have probably been a nervous wreck and too all over the place to remember to do these things. So glad you got it back though. I have a Wifi only 12.9" iPad Pro and now your article has me regretting that decision. Yikes! :)
  • I assume all of that was done for the story? If you've got an Iphone you can control all of that from your phone so screenshots wouldn't really be needed for the normal lost situation.
  • Ha, those were all done after the fact — I was definitely still panicking too much during the actual event to take screens!
  • I'm sorry, but is it only me, or does anyone notice that her iPad battery icon is yellow? How can she get low power mode in her ipad? I cant find it in my ipad.
  • It probably went in to low power mode when she put it in lost mode. Makes sense since it would keep it alive longer that way.
  • I'm pretty sure iOS does that automatically for lost devices, as David Shirley says. No way to manually enable it.
  • I'm glad to hear your story. Sadly, my wife's iPhone was stolen a few weeks ago and immediately, the thief forcibly turned it off, thus we couldn't track it. I turned on lost mode, etc, but it was a lost cause. The thieves know that they are bricks, so I'm sure it was just thrown out immediately. Sadly, if the FBI gets their way, the industry of stealing iOS devices will boom once again. Apple should allow for a setting that requires you to enter your passcode or iCloud password in order to forcibly turn the phone off. That's the one loophole in the theft protection. *sigh*
  • That is a great idea. Require a password to force shut down the phone.
  • Steve Jobs was on your side. I need to go check my iCloud to make sure I have this setup for my Mac. Too bad its not available for devices like external hard disks someone at SeaTac TSA or Montego Bay Jamaica has my iOmega External hard disk.
  • Cellular ftw.
  • Isn't there activation lock on it? Even if someone stole it they wouldn't be able to use it much. Sent from the iMore App
  • Yes. There is an activation lock. And the phone was locked with the passcode. And you'd need the iCloud password. . . but they still stole the phone and I still had to get a new one! :) If they had to enter a code in order to forcibly turn the phone off, I might have been able to track it with Find my iPhone and been able to retrieve it!
  • It's not a computer, don't call it that Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Honestly, you people need to get ahold of yourselves. Losing and iPad isn't the end of the world. (Plus you guys would go blow your money on another one). How come you guys don't ever show articles of how Apple devices save ACTUAL LIVES, not an iPad that you lost. Sent from the iMore App
  • DId you actually leave the 555-555-5555 phone number?