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

NEWS ANALYSIS: Activation Lock for iOS 7 allows an iPhone to be locked against reactivation if it's stolen or lost, but you have to wait until this fall and then upgrade to iOS 7 to get it.

The video was chilling. Washington, D.C.'s NBC television affiliate, WRC, had been given access to a surveillance video of a crime that we hear about all too often.

In the video, a woman is walking along a busy street in downtown Washington talking on her cell phone. Following her is a young man watching her intently. Then in a flash, the man rushes up, grabs the phone from the woman's hands while she's talking, and dashes across a city street, phone in hand.

It should be noted that the woman wasn't walking in a sketchy part of town. Her path took her next to the Verizon Center, a huge indoor arena where the National Hockey League's Washington Capitals play world-class hockey and where the National Basketball Association's Washington Wizards attempt to play something they claim to be basketball. It's recognized as a nice part of town. But on a crowded sidewalk in full daylight, a thief grabs a smartphone and runs.

Fortunately, the crime was a snatch and grab and not a holdup, or the woman might have been injured or killed. Injuries and sometimes killings in the course of iPhone thefts are all too common in big cities, including Washington, New York and San Francisco. The crime, according to a source in San Francisco, is called "Apple picking." The target is usually an Apple iPhone because it's easy to turn the iPhone into cash.

For years now chiefs of police in these cities have been demanding that Apple include some means of locking iPhones to make them useless in case of theft. Now, finally, Apple has followed the lead of other phone companies and other OS makers, and is including a "kill switch" in iOS 7. But there's a catch for the kill switch to work: You must upgrade to iOS 7, and you can't do that until the end of 2013.

The kill feature, which Apple calls "Activation Lock," will be part of the Find My iPhone app and apparently will be included as part of the iOS 7 upgrade when it happens. Users will still have to turn on this feature, just as they have to enable it now. But once it is enabled, you'll be able to launch Find My iPhone from another device or from a Website. You'll be able to send the phone a message to display, and you'll be able to track the location of the phone using the built-in GPS.

The Find My iPhone app exists now, and it can be used to locate a wayward iPhone. This feature works. I've used it to locate a lost iPad and New York Times columnist David Pogue used it to recover a stolen iPhone that had somehow made its way from New York to Washington.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...