How to avoid losing your smartphone and the importance of backing-up

Features Rob Bamforth 14:51, 5 Jan 2012

Quo Circa analyst Rob Bamforth talks us through the new dos-and-donts of smartphone ownership

Many will have just enjoyed a festive period of present giving with a fortunate number receiving fancy new mobile phones, tablets and other smart and small mobile gadgets.

These types of devices have moved in recent years from being the specialist tools of a certain preserve of workers to being products that virtually everyone who breathes oxygen carries with them on a daily basis (and according to recent research, some even take them to bed too).

These small shiny packages are high performance, state of the art computer and communications devices, bristling with functionality, crisp high definition screens and sophisticated user interfaces, which integrate touch screen technology, location awareness and movement detection.

Despite high volume manufacturing and incessant off shoring, the rising toll of highly engineered electronic devices has resulted in skyrocketing prices. Subsidised contracts, whilst a blessing for many, will only hide these costs so long and this becomes all too clear when a device gets lost.

While the applications and media downloaded to them will (probably) be backed up in case of loss or damage to the device, there may be unprotected personal data at risk – things you will greatly miss, such messages and contacts.

Today, for most people, it might only be the inconvenient loss of contacts, phone numbers and other tediously replaceable information. But for some now – and for many in the future – the lost information could be a lot more important.

Digital tickets, boarding passes and mobile financial transactions, like the ones carried out through “tap and go” as easily as an Oyster card, are fast becoming a reality for smartphone users. And if these aren’t protected, someone can have a serious jolly on your phone and, more importantly, your money.

Do enough people take good care of their devices? Do they realize just how much important stuff is potentially locked inside their shiny new iPhone or Android handset?

In a word: no – they don’t. Around 10,000 mobile phones are left in London taxis every month. And since smartphones are rapidly becoming the default mobile phone option, a large percentage of this number are likely to be at this expensive end of the mobile spectrum.

Maybe a percentage of these ‘lost devices’ drop out of pockets, handbags and briefcases while the owner is working or otherwise occupied. Maybe a number are late at night on an outing with friends? Perhaps. But there are so many other places where mobile device owners are careless (at cafes, bars, and shops). In fact it’s almost anywhere the owner can sit down – or just be distracted by what is going on around them.

But that’s not all. A recent story we came across highlights just how careless some users can be with their smartphones. It goes a little something like this:
A father leaves his new iPhone with his young son to play games on while they sit in a queue at the barbers.

Father gets haircut first and once he’s done he pays and collects his son. But his son leaves the £500 gadget unguarded on the chair. The two leave the barbers and the rest, as they say, is history – or an insurance pay out.  

The young boy might not realise the inherent value of the device, but surely the father does – so why hasn’t he imparted this information onto his small child?

The way the boy follows his father’s example is similar to the effect imparted on junior employees by countless senior executives who are all too casual with their mobile devices right from the early days of the BlackBerry.

So what do captains of industry and ready-to-be-shorn fathers have in common?

Most probably a sense of invulnerability combined with a complete lack of understanding of the value inherent in the device and especially its contents.They believe other people’s devices are at risk, they just think they will be ‘lucky’.

Given that smartphones have a convertible street value approaching that of car radios in the 1970s, the risk of losing a phone via theft, either opportunistic or deliberate, is very high.

Protecting, insuring and then replacing a stolen device might be expensive, but the bigger problem an owner is likely to face is recovering the data and services contained on it.

The minimum that every smartphone owner should do is treat the device like the vulnerable high powered computer it really is. That means back up any data that is critical, important or difficult to replace – e.g. contacts, notes or saved passwords and pin cards.


First use whatever is close to the device itself to store the main day-to-day services or data, such as sync to iTunes for Apple devices or a mobile content management app for Android etc.

Get it in the cloud while you're at it!

Next, think about a suitably secure cloud storage service for documents and other occasionally used data files.

There are plenty of cloud storage options around, we’d recommend Dropbox, Evernote or SkyDrive, and most are cheap and easy to use. But the key is to take control of your data and decide what is important, or would be a pain if lost.

Finally, try to take more care – keep your eyes open and your expensive-to-lose mobile devices in sight!

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