What to do (and not) when an iPhone or iPad is stolen

August 3, 2012, 10:38 AM UTC

Pogue’s iPhone in safe hands. 

FORTUNE — According to NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, Apple (AAPL) gadgets — iPhones, iPads, iPods — now represent  four out of 10 thefts in New York City. The cops call it “Apple picking.”

What should you do when your iOS device disappears? In the past week, we’ve been treated to two object lessons — one painful, one extraordinarily lucky — from reporters in the field with first-hand experience.

When a gang of subway thieves grabbed his date’s iPad, the
Wall Street Journal
‘s Rolfe Winkler gave chase and ended up on a Brooklyn subway platform with a broken jaw. In a piece posted last weekend, he wondered whether the industry was doing enough to combat the growing crime wave. He’s advocating for a national registry of mobile devices, and he thinks Apple should stop servicing stolen gizmos.

When New York Times contributor David Pogue discovered that his iPhone had disappeared from his pocket on an Amtrak train, he tried a different approach. After Apple’s Find My iPhone app alerted him that the device had been activated near a house in Seat Pleasant, Md., he posted a map to his 1.4 million Twitter followers. “Find Pogue’s phone” went viral, with a happy ending revealed one “BREAKING” update at at time by Gizmodo‘s Kyle Wagner.

Keeping valuable mobile devices out of sight — especially in high-crime areas or near subway doors —  is always a good idea. But turning on Apple’s built-in tracking software (Find My iPhone/iPad/iPhone touch under Settings/Location Services) before your iOS device goes missing is a must.

And persistence pays off — Pogue kept pinging his iPhone until its battery finally died.