Smartphones are to be installed with a new ‘kill switch’, rendering them virtually useless, in a bid to try and curb soaring levels of phone thefts.

Apple has announced that the capability will be added as part of the latest iOS update due out in the autumn.

And the Mayor of London Boris Johnson is among politicians pushing all phone manufacturers to follow suit and do more to tackle phone theft.

There were more than 100,000 ‘thefts from person’ in the UK last year – an 8 per cent increase on 2011.

Last week, pop singer Katie Melua had her iPhone 5 ripped from her by muggers as she walked from her Notting Hill studios.

Police say the rise has been driven by phone thefts, particularly the recent phenomenon of thieves on bikes snatching handsets from victims as they ride past.

In New York, police say so-called ‘Apple picking’ is the fastest growing crime in the city with 113 devices stolen or lost every minutes across the US.

Boris Johnson has written to the heads of Apple, Nokia, Samsung, Motorola, HTC, Microsoft, Blackberry and Sony demanding action, according to the Financial Times.

His officials met with their counterparts in New York this week to share ideas on how to tackle the issue.

The Apple update will allow users to deactivate their stolen smartphone online through an activation lock. Even if the owner’s SIM card is removed, a thief can’t erase the phone’s data without a username and password.

An Apple ID and password are also required to turn off the new ‘Find My Phone’ application–which tracks a stolen or lost phone’s GPS location. A custom message, such as ‘This iPhone is lost. Please call me’ will be continuously displayed even if thieves manage to erase the phone.

‘We think this is going to be a really powerful theft deterrent,’ Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering Craig Federighi said at the developer’s conference on June  10.

Police warn that criminals want mobile phones, iPads and other electronic devices to sell on the black market overseas, where handsets can be sold on for twice their value in the UK.

And they say the public are leaving themselves vulnerable to attack by texting or using the internet while walking along, often with earphones in, oblivious to what is going on around them.

The Office for National Statistics said the number of personal thefts increased by eight per cent last year. In the year to December 2012 police recorded 107,471 such offences up from 99,396 a year earlier.

The true total is likely to be much higher as many people do not report incidents to the police. An ONS spokesman said: ‘This represents a speeding-up of the recent increases seen for this offence.

‘Anecdotal evidence suggests that this may be in part driven by theft of smartphones including the phenomena of bike riders stealing phones from people’s hands.’
source: Dailymail UK