No matter how hard you try, eventually you’re going to forget your smartphone or tablet or accidentally leave it somewhere. It happens to everyone, even Apple employees entrusted with keeping the latest and greatest hardware secrets from prying eyes.
The experience can range from frustrating to sheer panic. Many apps have been developed to address the issue, and finally Google itself stepped in with a hybrid web/device solution: Android Device Manager. It’s a wonderful step in the right direction, but Android Device Manager is fundamentally flawed from a user-experience perspective. Here’s what we’d do about that.
How it works
Initially, Google created a new “administrator” for your Android-powered device which, when enabled, will allow the locking or erasing (“wiping”) of a lost device. To use this feature you had to find your way to an Internet-connected computer, navigate to the right page, then log in. At that point you’d have the ability to locate, ring, lock, and even erase your device.
That all sounds great, but there are some problems with the user experience.
First, you had to get to a computer to use the tool. Second, you had to log in to your account — which may not be something you’d want to do on a “borrowed” computer, or may be extremely difficult if you’re using 2-step authentication (like safety-conscious people do — myself included).
Lastly, you can only use it to find, ring, lock, and erase your devices — not someone else’s.
A mobile option
Not long ago, Google released Android Device Manager as a mobile app. When this was announced I was thrilled! I installed it right away, but never used it.
The mobile app is almost identical to the web version — it’s just more convenient because it runs on your mobile device.
I reached for my Nexus 5, opened up Android Device Manager, selected my tablet from the list, and within minutes was shown a map with my tablet in the center: I’d left my tablet on my desk at work. Frustrating, yes, but at least I knew where it was, and that it was safe. I used the “lock” option to secure it, and didn’t worry about it.
We try and double with friends and neighbors every Friday night, whenever possible (dinner conversation is much more interesting that way). That’s what we’d done that particular evening. We’d gone to our local seafood restaurant, had an enjoyable meal, did some shopping, and hung out. Exciting, right? My friend’s wife reached for her phone — and it wasn’t in her purse. Had she left it at the restaurant? Had it fallen out of her purse along the way? If only Google had a tool that would let me locate her phone for her…
But it doesn’t work that way.
When we got back to their place we quickly and easily identified that her phone was at the restaurant. We remotely locked it, then headed back. We lost about an hour in the process, but she didn’t lose her phone or her personal information.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t help her until we got back to her computer. My wife and I had our Android-powered phones with us, and her husband had his, but none of them could locate her lost phone. Why?
Android Device Manager is inherently flawed
Unless you have more than one Android-powered device set up using your personal account, installing Android Device Manager is nothing more than a “you are here” app. It does you no good.
If you happen to have a smartphone and a tablet, you can find one device from the other — as long as they’ve both got an Internet connection (which limits the utility right there). But what if you are trying to find your wife’s phone, or your friend’s tablet? That is what the mobile version of Android Device Manager should do. That’s what you’d expect it to do anyway.
Sure, there are privacy concerns with this. You don’t want just anyone being able to track your every move, I get that, but there has to be some way that your friend can add you as a “trusted” individual and use this app to “find my friend’s phone”. The system could require a PIN or some other form of temporary authorization to permit the ability to locate, ring, and lock (though probably not allow the option to “erase”) the other device, but currently there isn’t any mechanism to do so.
So, Google, there you have it. Consider it our challenge to you. You’ve already got a great system and solution in place, now you just need to make it useful for the lions-share of real-world scenarios. Oh, and if you could give us credit for the suggestion, that’d be great.
Image: (cc) dmott9