The iPhone 5s and 5c, and their new iOS 7 operating system, launched last week with fingerprint screen locks, slow-motion high-resolution video, a divisive new look and feel, and hard-to-get gold versions. Perhaps the most useful feature is flying quite low under the upgrading public's radar—unless they live in New York City.
In New York—where, as noted here previously, 40 percent of all robberies involved cellphones in 2012, and 14 percent of all crime involved Apple devices—police are handing out flyers advising people to upgrade to iOS 7, as noted by AllThingsD (via Jim Rosenberg's tweet). In the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, a parents' Facebook group is also pro-iOS 7.
Imagine being a New Yorker whose boss and IT department have requested holding off on upgrading until the corporate tools can be fixed up, but who is advised by police officers and neighbors to plug into iTunes and have at it. They don't teach these kinds of situations in Richard Scarry books. But I digress.
Until a Norwegian 13-year-old figures out the work-around, Apple's Activation Lock feature seems like a very strong step toward mass adoption of better phone security. On retail smartphones, and units not mass-deployed by corporate IT, screen passwords are something the owner has to dig into settings to set up. When you upgrade to iOS 7 or turn on a new iPhone 5s or 5c, you are prompted to set up a passcode for unlocking your phone. That same passcode, along with an Apple ID and password (or fingerprint), is needed to turn off the Find My iPhone feature, or re-activate the phone, regardless of whether you or the thief has wiped out its data.
The Activation Lock is lodged deep in the iPhone's internals, it seems; Apple suggests on a frequently-asked-questions page that iPhone owners should remember to disable Find My iPhone with their password before handing over their phones for service.
Android, for its part, recently rolled out an Android Device Manager service for devices running newer versions of Android. It requires Android owners to head to the Google Settings app (which they might not notice otherwise) and enable remote erasure, if they want to do more than just locate/ring their device. Apple is grabbing onto a bigger opportunity: implementing better personal security defaults on their operating system that is perhaps the most consistently upgraded on devices. It's rare to say this on a mobile blog, but that just seems like a good thing for everyone (until I read the comments).