Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, / Getty Images

Apple added feature that can disable iPhones remotely — making phones much less attractive to thieves

Stealing of smartphones has plunged after manufacturers added features that can allow them to be locked remotely.

The number of stolen iPhones dropped by half in the 12 months after Apple added a feature that allows users to shut down devices remotely, making them useless to those that have stolen them. Thefts also fell by 40 per cent in San Francisco and 25 per cent in New York, according to a new report by Reuters.

The news was hailed as a personal success by politicians including Boris Johnson, who along with other pressure groups have campaigned to have kill switches made necessary under law.

Apple, Samsung and Google have all added the feature to their phones. Microsoft is set to release an update that will add it later this year.

The feature is called Activation Lock in iPhones, and was added in September 2013. With the newest version of Google's Android, Lollipop, the new feature is standard on phones running the operating system — though not all phones have received the update yet.

Apple has the feature enabled by default on iPhones, and campaigners have asked for other manufacturers to do the same. Many other manufacturers' require users to opt in to the "kill switch".

Since the feature is enabled through a software update, it can be added to phones after they are released.