iOS 7 ‘kill switch’ may end smartphone thefts, say city leaders

A coalition of city leaders that includes the London Mayor Boris Johnson has expressed the hope that a new “kill switch” to disable stolen iPhones could help end a global epidemic of smartphone thefts.

Apple included the “activation lock” in its new iOS 7 mobile operating system, which was downloaded by millions of users in the UK and around the world yesterday – although many users had to put up with lengthy delays to update their phones and iPads after getting the message: “An error occurred whilst downloading iOS 7.0.”

Users took to Twitter and Instragram to express their frustration, some complaining that they had had to restore their phone to its factory settings — wiping out apps, messages and photos — to be able to make the update. Others joked that by the time iOS 7 had finished downloading it would be time to install iOS 8.

Apple won praise, however, for the look and feel of the new OS — Apple’s first major software release under the control of its British design chief Sir Jonthan Ives — which features fresher fronts and flatter icons. It also features a new control centre that can be reached with a simple swipe from the home screen to give instant access to volume and brightness controls and functions such as airplane mode, wi-fi, bluetooth and “Do Not Disturb”.

Among those welcoming the release was the Secure our Smartphones Coalition, which has petitioned major phone manufacturers to take phone theft more seriously. “Apple Picking” – the theft of iPhones and other high-end smartphones as they are used in the streets – has become a huge problem on both sides of the Atlantic and Mr Johnson lent his support to the campaign earlier this summer after an explosion of thefts in the capital.

Although iPhone users could already erase all the information from their handsets in the event of theft, iOS 7 users can now block the handsets using the Find My iPhone app, rendering them useless except as high-tech paperweights.

The top prosecutors from New York and San Francisco, Eric Schneiderman and George Gascon, who lead the coalition, said it was ” too early to tell if Activation Lock will be a comprehensive solution to the epidemic of ‘Apple Picking’ crimes that have victimised iPhone and iPad owners around the world” but said that other smartphone manufacturers should follow suit to “protect their customers from violent crime”.

The iOS ”control centre” on the phone allows users to adjust settings with just one swipe from the bottom of the screen. This gives instant access to functions such as airplane mode, wi-fi, bluetooth or do not disturb, and enables users to quickly pause or play a song, jump to the next track and stream music.

Apple has also introduced an AirDrop tool to share content – which is said to be fully encrypted – with contacts nearby, and has added further updates to its cameras and its Siri feature. Another new feature is iTunes radio, a free internet radio station featuring more than 200 stations.

However concerns have been expressed about the new operating system’s effect on battery life for existing iPhone users. The Ars Technica blog said that all previous handsets were “negatively impacted by the iOS 6 to iOS 7 transition” but worst hit was the iPhone 5, which dropped from 661 minutes battery life on iOS 6 to 444 minutes with iOS 7.

The new OS will come already installed on the two new Apple handsets that went on sale yesterday, the plastic 5C and the super-fast 5S, which features fingerprint recognition.

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