waving android

I am currently a software engineer at Google, where as a member of the Android platform team I build frameworks and user interfaces.

The blog here at is mostly historical; you can find more recent posts on .

Lost and found in the age of personalized devices

March 23rd, 2009

Just received this on the CS graduate students mailing list:

Subject: [cs-grad-l] FW: Found iPod

I found an iPod in Duncan hall on the third floor. […] If you can identify the color and make of the iPod, I will get it back to you.

This is the standard proof-of-knowledge test applied in lost-and-found situations: Can you describe the appearance of the item in a way that uniquely identifies you as its owner?

In the case of an iPod, this sort of works: there are many different models spread out over several generations (multiplied again by a variety of colors). But what if the lost object had been, say, an iPhone? There are just a few of those, and a betting man (or woman) would guess “iPhone 3G, black” and have just under a 50% shot at it.1

OK, you could drop it off with AT&T (or O2 or Rogers or whatever) and allow them to find the proper owner via SIM, IMEI, and so forth. But an iPod touch lacks these identifying features, as do many other portable (and lose-able) gadgets.

I argue that there’s still an effective way to identify the original owner, even in situations where the exact specifications of the device are easily guessed by anyone. It’s afforded by the increasing personalization of these gadgets: They may all look alike on the outside, but on the inside they’re totally different.

So, if I were to come across a lost iPod, I would instead issue this challenge:

“If you can identify 5 albums, podcasts, or games on this iPod, it’s yours.”


  1. I mean, who’s got an original iPhone still? Seriously. 

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One response

  1. abu  

    Mmmh… I never bother to use PIN lock on cell phones, or screen lock on iPods. This post is letting me reconsidering that for lost’n'found identification.

    comment posted at 9:12 am on 18 Apr 2009

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