In the June 2013 announcement of iOS 7, Apple emphasized changes in the Find My iPhone app and service. With good reason: the new version makes any iOS device far less attractive to steal, erase, and resell, plus it provides more location-tracking data. These improvements should reduce thieves’ interest in iOS devices because they won’t be easy to sell or fence, and might help law enforcement track down less-wary criminals more often.
Apple added this feature because mobile carriers (at least in the United States and several other countries) have shown little interest in helping their customers recover stolen mobile phones or eliminate the value of those phones at resale. Both GSM and CDMA phones have unique, burned-in hardware identifiers — the IMEI and MEID, respectively — and carriers know which ID is associated with your account. If you report a phone as stolen, the carrier could prevent that ID from being reactivated, provide you with information about its location, notify law enforcement, seize it when brought into a store, and so forth. Carriers do essentially none of that.
As a result, expensive smartphones with high resale value, like the iPhone, have become desirable targets for thieves, and account for a significant percentage of serious crimes in many cities. For instance, cellphone-related thefts accounted for 41 percent of serious crimes for six months earlier this year in San Francisco, 40 percent of robberies in Washington, D.C., and over 50 percent of all street crime in New York City.
With iOS 7 and Find My iPhone, Apple now has the technology to stop iOS device theft in its tracks, although the company couches these capabilities in terms of “lost” iPhones, not stolen ones. No one wants to think about theft, but we all misplace things.