New iOS 7 Lockout Feature That May Save Lives Won't Arrive Until Fall

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2013-06-12 Print this article Print

Right now, the Find My iPhone app will only display an info screen and have it display a message and send out an annoying sound. It doesn't stop the iPhone from being used.

But now that's about to change. When Apple ships iOS 7, you also be able to tell the Find My iPhone app to lock the phone and erase the contents. The lock will require entry of the same Apple ID that was used to lock the phone, and will not allow activation of that phone again until it's entered.

The Activation Lock is being ballyhooed in Apple circles as a means of preventing iPhone theft. It doesn't do that, but it does make the phone useless if it is stolen and if the owner locks it using the Find My iPhone feature. Pogue used the feature when his iPhone was stolen, as did the woman mentioned above. But in both cases, the thief had turned off the phone immediately, rendering the iPhone finder useless. With the new Activation Lock, the iPhone can still be wiped and locked as soon as it's turned on again, as it must be if someone is going to use it.

While it won't happen immediately, the fact iPhones owners will soon get the ability to wipe and lock stolen devices so they can't readily be reused will eventually dawn on the iPhone thieves. Once they figure out that it's probably a waste of time to steal an iPhone, such thefts will start to drop off.

But it won't happen immediately. Snatch and grab phone thieves will have to be burned by locked iPhones a few times so that the market dries up. Once the lack of a market becomes apparent to the thieves, they'll figure out that they're taking a risk without much possibility of reward. Or they will try to quickly sell the stolen devices to unsuspecting buyers who will throw away their money on what is no more useful than a paperweight.

Despite the fact that these folks generally aren't the sharpest knives in the drawer, they'll figure that out too. But while they're figuring it out, iPhone users will still be at risk. Apple, for its part, could help by advertising widely the existence of Activation Lock, which would likely discourage thefts more quickly.

And yes, most other phones already have a feature analogous to Activation Lock, and there are apps you can buy for the iPhone now that do this. But without Apple's participation nobody knows if an iPhone might be locked or not. Now they will know, and with that knowledge, perhaps the number of people who have been killed or injured for their iPhones will diminish.


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