Interesting MobileMe Find My iPhone Behavior on iPhone 3GS

Today Apple released iOS 4.2.1 for all their mobile devices including iPhone, iPod Touch and the iPad.  One of the last-minute features announced was the Fine My iPhone features which allows users to track down a stolen or misplaced iPhone.  Until today you had to have a MobileMe account costing $99 per year.  Today’s release gave iOS users a free MobileMe account which they can use for Find My iPhone.

I downloaded and installed iOS 4.2.1 for both my iPad and iPhone 3GS through iTunes.  Installation went without a hitch.

Find My iPhone

The Apple press release describes the feature:

The Find My iPhone (or iPad or iPod touch) feature is now free to use without a MobileMe℠ subscription and helps you locate your missing device.* The Find My iPhone app is a free download on the App Store℠ and lets users easily locate a missing device on a map and have it display a message or play a sound. Users can even remotely lock or wipe data from a lost device to protect privacy.

After installing the iOS update on the iPhone I decided to try the Find My iPhone feature.  On the iPhone this feature is enabled by going to Settings->Mail, Contacts, Calenders->Add Account…MobileMe.  I just used my existing Apple ID and password but encountered the following error message:

iPhone3GS-MobileMe

Hmm…so maybe pre-iPhone 4 devices aren’t supported.  I decided to give it a try on the iPad to see if maybe the service was just overwhelmed, following the same process the account was added and verified with ease.

I then decided to give it shot on the iPhone 3GS one last time and viola..worked fine.  So it appears Apple either has a bug in setting up an iOS device that is not current generation first or something got fixed.  I have heard from another user who experienced the same behavior.

Easiest fix if you experience the same problem, add your iPad or other device first.  If no other device exists..well, then I’m not sure. 

UPDATE: A reader here and confirmed on Twitter points out this behavior is by-design and you must have a current generation device to setup the free MobileMe account and then register your older devices.  The very fine print on the Apple web site states:

3. You can create a free Find My iPhone account on any iPhone 4, iPad, or iPod touch (4th generation) running iOS 4.2. Once you create an account on a qualifying device, use your Apple ID and password to enable Find My iPhone on your other devices running iOS 4.2. Find My iPhone is not available in all countries.

I guess if you have only an older device, like the iPhone 3GS, you are out of luck.  I would not have found this information by casually reading any information when setting up iOS 4.2.1 on my 3GS.  Had I setup the 3GS second, I would not have run into this either.

  • John D

    As Apple’s web site states, you can “Create a free Find My iPhone account on any iPhone 4, iPad, or iPod touch (4th generation) running iOS 4.2. Once you create an account on a qualifying device, use your Apple ID and password to enable Find My iPhone on your other devices running iOS 4.2.”

  • http://www.accidentaltechnologist.com Anonymous

    Thanks John, this is what I was thinking. If I only had a 3GS then I would be out of luck, right?

  • John D

    It looks like it indeed!

  • philh

    Typical apple crap. why not let those with 3gs have it for free? cant wait for my contract to end bye bye apple

  • Atlantez

    @Rob: Sorry to ninja, but your contact form is no longer working, is there any other way to contact you? Thanks a lot.

  • philrunclimb

    Hi – yes I have this same problem. I’m PAYING for a mobileme membership. I have a Macbook and an iphone 3GS – but can’t seem to use this otherwise FREE service, unless I get hold of an ipad and load it there.. crazy. APPLE – please fix this for me

  • ServantXVI

    I also find this out yesterday, much to my disappointment. What I’m now struggling with is the apparent inability to sign up for even a paid MobileMe account???

  • Russ

    I have an iPhone 4 and a 3G. The 4 is not a problem with the free mobileme, I also have the 3G set up but it will never find it… or so I thought. I have just been on a trip to Vietnam and over there… voila. IT WORKS no problems at all. Come back to Australia and well, you guessed it, it no longer works. COME ON APPLE, give us a break. This not a technology issues. Clearly it is just that you are dictating who gets this function for free and who doesn’t. NOT HAPPY JAN !!!

  • Discusted

    What the “@#$*” Apple? I contemplate if you realize how many low end users of your devices are being made to feel alienated by these types of practices. Of course Apple wants everyone to use the latest product gens, but for a lot of people this just is not affordable.
    Glad to see your looking out for the little guy and not just another corporate machine like all the rest.
    THANKS Steve

  • DonnaH

    I feel like everyone else. My iPhone3g isn’t even a year old yet, and NOW I find out that unless I buy an iPhone4g I can’t get some of the applications I want! Specifically Mobile Me, or Find my iPhone. This is a rip off. It’s a money grab! When MY contract expires, Idefinitely won’t be buying another iPhone!

  • Andyhutch1947

    I have had my 3g upgraded to 3gs for a few years now and my wife had a regular cell and would always steal (borrow) my iPhone so we recently saw an Apple TV ad for the 3gs for $49.95 so I bought her one as a surprise a week ago. I posted a question on an Apple forum and asked how to add this new iPhone to my existing MobileMe account, which I pay yearly for. My MobileMe account also includes my iMac27. My wife also has an iMac27 which I want to add to MobileMe account. My question was quickly answered telling me it was absolutely possible to add the new iPhone3gs to my existing MobileMe account. Apparently he was mistaken.

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  • Adangutierrez

    Just think, what will not work on the new Iphone 4G 2 years ffrom now.!!!!

  • grumpy old man

    iPhone 3gs is still a grat phone, but I’ll never ever buy anything again from apple, who treat their customer as bad as they do.

  • Stevendunnstevendunn

    But the 3GS runs iOS 4.2 ‘or later’ so really that isn’t anything to do with it, there is something else amiss!

  • Itech3

    thanks for the tip it works fine with ipad first then iphone 3gs