By Jason Snell
September 17, 2019 12:00 PM PT
13 Features of iOS 13: Find My
Note: This story has not been updated for several years.
Very early on the life of the iPhone, I found myself wishing for the digital equivalent of the Marauder’s Map, so I could see the locations of my friends at a glance. Though a bunch of early App Store apps tried to make it happen, it didn’t really catch on for me until Apple added the feature itself as Find My Friends. Separately, Apple created Find My iPhone, a name that kept getting worse as more Apple devices gained location-sensing technology, but an app that was essential for finding lost hardware.
They’re apps that do basically the same thing—one for your own devices, and one for the locations of people you know. In iOS 13, Apple has done away with both of them, replacing them with the new Find My app. We can quibble about the name—I got used to it in a hurry—but I think it’s a great step forward.
By default1 Find My opens to much the same view as Find My Friends—the app’s People tab is selected, and the map will zoom out to show people who are near you. As before, “people” is defined as people in your Family Sharing group as well as anyone who has agreed to share their location with you. At the bottom of the screen there’s a People list that lists everyone who is sharing their location with you, with their current location—and if you tap on any of them, the map view will switch to show their location. The list also includes anyone you’re sharing your location with, even if they’re not reciprocating, so you can decide if you want to continue having that kind of a one-way relationship.
The interface has been refreshed to the style of a modern iOS app, but the features are more or less the same as before. You can get directions to the location of your friend, and add notifications to alert you when they’re arriving or departing particular locations.
But just hit that new Devices tab and… you’re essentially in Find My iPhone, but a much more modern version that’s using the same interface as the People tab. Here you’ll see all the devices associated with your Apple ID (and any Apple IDs associated with your family). This section will be a good reminder to de-associate all your old devices—as a product reviewer I have more of these than most people, but my list was still shockingly long.
As with Find My iPhone, the Devices list is a bit scattershot, because different devices can sense location and phone home via quite different means. AirPods will show up on the list, but it’s really only going to show the last time and location another device connected to them. Laptops that are asleep or off may appear, but at best the app will only show where they were the last time they were connected.
This is all about to change with iOS 13 and macOS Catalina, as Apple introduces new technology that will enable other Apple devices to find yours. It’s all encrypted to ensure privacy, but we are about to enter a world where Apple devices emit low-power Bluetooth pings in order to better let you find where they are. The Find My app will be a major beneficiary of this tech.
Then there’s Ultra Wideband tech, which Apple is bringing to the iPhone 11. That technology will allow even more precise discovery of Apple devices. And reports suggest Apple’s also working on a low-power tracking device that you’ll be able to place on other objects, which will then appear in a new Items tab within Find My. In other words, Find My isn’t just a much-needed merging of two longstanding location-tracking apps. It’s a refresh that’s happening because Apple is introducing a raft of new tracking technologies that go beyond anything we’ve seen up to this point.
I know this is a series about iOS features, but I also want to mention how great it is that Find My is coming to macOS Catalina via the Catalyst app-translation technology. Previously, you could view the locations of your friends on the Mac via a very limited Notification Center widget. Now Mac users get the complete Find My app experience. As someone who uses Find My Friends on my Mac all the time to figure out where my family is, I’m happy to finally be able to use an app rather than sliding out a weird little drawer.
- I think. I don’t know what happens if you have no designated friends or family members. ↩
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