Pretty much all the leading smartphone makers have signed a pledge to pre-load anti-theft software – or have it ready to be downloaded – onto their mobile devices from July next year. Similar software is already offered by some manufacturers, including Apple with its Find My iPhone app.

It’s hoped the move will make smartphones a lot less attractive for thieves, and should provide device owners in the US with peace of mind as they’ll be able to remotely erase all data on their handset – and also render it inoperable – should it be stolen. If an owner recovers their device at a later date, the technology allows for it to be restored and reused.

With smartphone thefts on the rise in the US and elsewhere, calls from law enforcement officials and legislators for handset makers to make more effort to tackle the issue have been growing ever louder.

The 'Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment', announced Tuesday, has been signed by the likes of Apple, Google, HTC, Huawei, Motorola, Microsoft, Nokia, and Samsung, and is also receiving backing from the country’s five biggest wireless carriers.

Not enough?

While the announcement has been largely welcomed by lawmakers, for some it falls well short of expectations. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, for example, have both long argued for the mandatory inclusion of anti-theft software on mobile phones. In a joint statement, the attorneys said that although it welcomes the CTIA wireless association’s decision to announce “a new voluntary commitment to make theft-deterrent features available on smartphones….it falls short of what is needed to effectively end the epidemic of smartphone theft.”

The pair have previously said they believe moves to install more robust anti-theft technology on handsets have been blocked by carriers overly interested in making money from handset insurance, though the CTIA has said it worries a mandatory kill switch could let hackers infiltrate the system and maliciously disable devices.

California lawmaker Mark Leno, a strong voice in the campaign to improve handset security, was similarly unimpressed by the pledge, describing it as an “incremental yet inadequate” step to deal with smartphone theft. He added that it’ll still be up to a user to download or activate the anti-theft software.

“Only weeks ago, they claimed that the approach they are taking today was infeasible and counterproductive,” Leno said. “While I am encouraged they are moving off of that position so quickly, today’s ‘opt-in’ proposal misses the mark if the ultimate goal is to combat street crime and violent thefts involving smartphones and tablet.”

In contrast, Steve Largent, the president of CTIA, said the initiative showed the industry was willing to work together with regulators and consumer groups and thanked the companies for their commitment to protect smartphone users.