Today Cabel Sasser tweeted a proposal to add a “shutdown requires PIN” option to iOS. Cabel found, as have numerous people who have had their iPhones stolen recently, that many thieves have gotten wise to Find My iPhone. They make sure to shut off stolen devices as soon as they can, rendering the device recovery service useless.
I had the same thought after my girlfriend’s factory-unlocked (ugh) iPhone 4 was stolen recently while she was hosting a fundraising event. By the time she called to tell me her phone was missing, the device was offline – and it hasn’t resurfaced since. It’s clear that whoever took it knew the drill.
In light of this, it seems like PIN-protecting device shutdown is a great idea (I was so enamoured of the idea when I first thought of it that I nearly fired off a self-satisfied email suggesting it to Apple), but unfortunately it’s not likely to prove useful.
Nothing protects against thieves ejecting your SIM card, but that’s not the most significant problem.
Most devastating is the device hard reset (holding Sleep/Wake and Home simultaneously for a few seconds). Hard resets are a failsafe for an unresponsive device, and thus cannot require a PIN. Hell, given the ease and speed of a hard reset, I’d guess it’s the preferred shutdown method for a savvy thief – it can even be performed completely eyes-free.
Unfortunately, this all means that adding a “shutdown requires PIN” setting won’t be more than a brief respite in the arms race against thieves – smart thieves will quickly learn to evade the system, and we’ll soon be back where we started.
Update: Cabel has suggested that this can be resolved by turning hard shutdown into a hard reboot. My guess is that Apple doesn’t want devices rebooting endlessly if they’re erroring out. (I have a vague memory of the iOS hard shutdown being a reboot eons ago – if this is the case, Apple must have changed the behaviour for a reason.) That being said, I’d probably take that risk myself for a less-stealable iPhone.