- New iPhone "kill switch" targets crime known as "Apple picking"
- Tool is part of new operating system for the iPhone
- It requires a password to deactivate "Find My Phone" or wipe data
- Mobile device theft a growing concern for law enforcement
It's called "Apple picking," a growing wave of crime in which thieves target mobile devices, particularly iPhones and iPads.
Now the company that gave the crime its name is taking a step to stop it, with a "kill switch"-style update aimed at making the mobile gadgets less valuable to thieves.
Activation Lock will be part of iOS 7, the latest version of Apple's mobile operating system expected to roll out in the fall. The feature will require an Apple ID and password before the phone's "Find My iPhone" feature can be turned off or any data can be erased.
At a keynote address opening its annual Worldwide Developers Conference, the company said the same ID and password will be needed to reactivate a device after it's been remotely erased.
"We think this is going to be a really powerful theft deterrent," said Craig Federighi, a senior vice president at Apple.
As mobile devices become more popular, stealing them has become a unique sort of crime that has law enforcement and government officials taking notice.
In New York, a special police unit has been created to deal with stolen mobile devices.
The overall crime rate in the city increased 3% last year -- but "if you subtracted just the increase in Apple product thefts, we would have had an overall decrease in crime in New York," Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne said.
Advocates have been calling for so-called kill switch tools in all mobile devices for some time.
Apple's announcement came the same week that George Gascon, the district attorney in tech hub San Francisco, plans to meet with the New York state attorney general and representatives of cell phone companies to discuss ways of discouraging mobile-device robberies.
In a letter last year to the Federal Communications Commission chairman, the wireless industry's trade association released details of a voluntary effort to "help law enforcement deter smartphone theft."
A major plank of that effort is the creation of a database for smartphones reported stolen. Phones on the database, which is scheduled to be up and running at the end of November, could not be activated and would not work on an LTE network in the United States.