This Apple Watch Feature Saved a Once-in-a-Lifetime Family Trip

Commentary: My smartwatch has paid for itself a dozen times over due to one incredibly simple feature.

Gael Cooper
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Expertise Breaking news, entertainment, lifestyle, travel, food, shopping and deals, product reviews, money and finance, video games, pets, history, books, technology history, and generational studies Credentials
  • Co-author of two Gen X pop-culture encyclopedia for Penguin Books. Won "Headline Writer of the Year"​ award for 2017, 2014 and 2013 from the American Copy Editors Society. Won first place in headline writing from the 2013 Society for Features Journalism.
Gael Cooper
4 min read
Image of solar eclipse glasses that say Cleveland, on the plaza at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Cleveland rocks! I watched the total solar eclipse from just outside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, but my phone almost didn't make it there with me.

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper

I woke up groggy in the Austin airport, my head aching from where I'd pillowed it on my lumpy backpack. My purse was close to me, our boarding passes for my family's 5 a.m. departure tucked protectively in one side. Then one panicked thought jolted into my head: WHERE WAS MY PHONE?

Let's backtrack: My husband, teen daughter and I were flying from Seattle to Cleveland for the April 8 total solar eclipse. Through a weird tangle of events, we missed our departing flight. The only new flight we could nab left us stuck from midnight to 5 a.m., sleeping on the airport floor in Texas' capital city. 

If you've ever planned a long-awaited trip for your family and watched it start to go wrong, you know my mind was pinging like a ball in a pinball machine. There were a million threads I was trying to weave together to save this spring break adventure. 

And because it's 2024, 999,999 of those threads required use of my iPhone. From rebooking the flight to alerting our hotel that we'd be late to locating our luggage, I was constantly tapping and calling on my trusty phone screen.

But I'd dozed off for 2 or 3 hours on the cold floor of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, and somehow when I woke, that phone was not in my hand, pocket or purse. Had I left it somewhere in our sleepy late-night trek through the airport? Was it perched on a bathroom sink or sitting on top of a vending machine? Or worse, had some early-morning traveler spotted it while I slept and made off with it?

Then I remembered: I was wearing my Apple Watch. Even though the battery was ticking worryingly low, it still had power. I pressed the side button under the digital crown. It brought up a screen of icons, including one showing a ringing smartphone. One press and I heard the most delightful sound my ears could hear, a sweetly persistent BING BING BING. 

Photo of Apple Watch showing button that pings a lost iPhone.

That blue button is pinging my lost iPhone. I'm so thankful it exists.

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper

Apple Watch comes with a feature that will beep a lost iPhone, and I'd never needed it more. 

It turned out that my phone had simply slipped down between two suitcases. I tracked the beeping, found it immediately and started to breathe again.

Read more: Using an Apple Watch Transformed My Relationship With Self-Care

I didn't even want an Apple Watch

I never wanted a smartwatch. I loved the simple style of my Movado Museum classic watch, with its elegant black-and-gold color scheme and minimalist design. But my husband, the techie, gave me an Apple Watch Series 7 for my birthday back in 2021. He raved about features like fitness capabilities, and the ability to set timers. Sure, OK, I'll try it, I thought.

Now, I'm hooked.

I use the maps app to find my way to appointments. I use the workout app to track everything from short walks to the post office to long cycling workouts. I use the weather program to check the forecast and temperature. I use the built-in timer when I need a reminder to slide a loaf of fresh bread out of the oven. I use the tap-to-pay Apple Pay option at our local drive-in burger joint.

But I don't think any feature on the watch – including telling time – has made me as thankful as the find-your-phone option.

Of course, there are other smartwatches out there, including Google's Pixel Watch. You may find one of those other options more to your liking. I happen to be tucked into the Apple ecosystem, and I'm OK with that.

Author at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, wearing eclipse glasses

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame played Dark Side of the Moon, Ain't No Sunshine, and Here Comes The Sun during the eclipse.

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper

Face it: We need our phones, even for celestial events

I don't lose my iPhone that often. It's usually close by, in my pocket or purse. But when I get that sinking feeling that I left it somewhere, I'm eternally grateful that one touch on my wrist can make it beep – as long as it's close enough to me.

I've used other ways to find my misplaced phone, of course. I've asked my daughter or friends to simply call it to make it ring. I've beeped it from the Find My option on my husband's phone. But the simplest and quickest way is to just press the button on my watch.

Photo of the total solar eclipse

When the moon slid over the sun, the temperature in Cleveland dropped noticably. It was definitely worth the trek from Seattle.

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper

Our eclipse trip turned out to be worth all the hassle. The Cleveland skies brightened just in time, and we watched the eclipse from outside the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The museum played Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon as the sun slipped away, then flowed into Bill Withers' achingly sad Ain't No Sunshine during the 4 minutes of totality, before triumphantly blasting The Beatles' Here Comes The Sun as sunshine returned.

When the sun slid behind the moon, the temperature dropped about 10 degrees instantly, and the people around us erupted in the purest expression of joy, kissing and dancing and snapping photos. It made memories my family will never forget. And in this day and age, with so much riding on staying connected, I'm thankful I didn't have to add a lost phone to my list of mini-disasters.