An iPad mini that fell off a car travelling at high speed and smashed into pieces was – incredibly – still able to report its location to its owner.
Brand-protection specialist, Stuart Fuller, heard something hit the back of his car on a dark country lane and assumed it was a twig falling off a tree. Unluckily for Fuller, it was in fact the iPad mini that he’d accidentally left on top of his car.
Fuller, also chairman of non-league football club Lewes FC in England, was driving home from the club on Tuesday evening when he absent-mindedly left the iPad on top of the car before getting in. He managed to drive almost two miles up steep hills and around tight corners before the iPad mini finally fell off on the outskirts of Lewes.
At first, Fuller didn’t realize what he’d done. “I heard a thump and thought I must have run over something or something had hit the roof of the car,” he said.
Only when he got home and discovered that his iPad wasn’t in the car did the penny drop. He immediately fired up Apple’s Find My app on his iPhone and located the iPad, which was sitting precisely where he heard the strange noise.
The next morning, Fuller asked a local friend and photographer, James Boyes, to see if he could retrieve the iPad. Boyes found the iPad in its leather case at the precise location Fuller’s app had reported.
“James sent me a picture of the iPad in the case, and it looked like it only had a couple of scratches,” said Fuller. “Then he showed me what was inside the case.”
As the pictures show, the iPad mini was broken in two, with a heavily buckled case and completely shattered screen, suggesting the device had likely been run over after falling off Fuller’s car. Incredibly, that still didn’t stop the device reporting its location. In fact, even when Boyes took the battered iPad mini back to his house in Lewes, Fuller was still able to locate the device using the Find My app.
How Find My works
How, you might wonder, does a Wi-Fi-only iPad with no SIM card installed manage to report its location on a dark country road in the middle of nowhere?
This is all thanks to some very clever device engineering on Apple’s behalf, which broadcasts Bluetooth signals, even when the device is offline. Any passer-by with an Apple device can pick up these Bluetooth signals, without having any idea that they’re inadvertently helping to track someone’s missing device.
“What’s amazing is that this whole interaction is end-to-end encrypted and anonymous,” Apple’s senior vice president, Craig Federighi, told the WWDC conference in 2019 when the feature was announced. “It uses just tiny bits of data that piggyback on existing network traffic so there’s no need to worry about your battery life, your data usage, or your privacy.”
Even though Fuller’s iPad mini was smashed beyond all hope of repair, the battery must have remained connected, allowing the device to broadcast its distress signal. An Apple device of a passing driver or pedestrian must have picked up the signal, alerting Fuller to the location of his destroyed tablet.
Fuller’s iPad isn’t the first case of an Apple device reporting its location after miraculously surviving a drop. In 2011, an iPhone fell out of a skydiver’s pocket at 13,500 feet and yet still managed to report its location, atop a two-story building that was half a mile from the skydiver’s landing site.
Find My iPhone was also used to locate an iPhone 4 that fell out of a skydiver’s pocket in another 2011 incident (be more careful, skydivers!), although this only tumbled 1,000 feet from the plane.
Alas, there’s no hope of Fuller’s iPad mini being able to do much more than report its location. Not unless Apple’s Genius Bar operatives can really live up to their name, that is…