Two cheaper alternatives to Find My iPhone

Sure, you want to help your lost or stolen iPhone find its way back to your pocket. Here's how to do it without spending $99 on a subscription to the MobileMe service.

An inexpensive StuffBak label may help a lost iPhone find its way home.

No doubt about it, Apple's just-announced Find My iPhone app is pretty cool . If your precious goes missing, you can remotely transmit a "Help, help, I'm lost!" message in the hopes that whoever found it will return it.

If that doesn't pan out, you can send a Mission Impossible-style self-destruct command that'll wipe the iPhone's memory, thus protecting any sensitive data from falling into the wrong hands.

Unfortunately, the price of this nifty recovery/security service is a subscription to Apple's MobileMe , which costs $99 annually. That's fine if you're already a subscriber, but way too pricey if all you want is an iPhone safety net.

Fortunately, there are alternatives. On the low-tech side there's StuffBak, a coded recovery label you slap on the back of your iPhone. The finder dials a toll-free number or visits the StuffBak site; the service arranges return shipping at no cost to the finder.

The good Samaritan also gets 20 bucks' worth of StuffBak stuff and any cash reward you want to add to the pot. As for you, recovery costs vary depending on the service plan you choose, but they won't be more than $30.

Getting closer to a MobileMe-style solution, GadgetTrak is a free app designed to help you locate a stolen iPhone (so you can recover it vigilante-style! Or, if you're boring and law-abiding, with the police's help). Check it out:

All you do is install and configure the app--then hope that the thief is dumb enough to tap the "Trak" icon (which, admittedly, looks not unlike the Safari icon). Doing so will bring up the URL of your choice (Google is the default) while secretly transmitting the phone's location to GadgetTrak. Login to your account to see the report.

Obviously the app needs the option of working in the background, without manual activation. GadgetTrak plans to "add additional functionality and triggers as Apple makes them available to us," but for now it's of limited value.

What do you think? Is Find My iPhone worth a $99 Mobile subscription, or are you better off with cheaper, third-party alternatives. I'm hoping that the arrival of OS 3.0 brings a lot more options for locating a lost or stolen phone.

 

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