Google has released Android Lollipop 5.1, the first major update to Google's latest iteration of its mobile platform. One of the most interesting additions to the new update is a feature that helps users protect their devices from smartphone thieves.

As Google vice president for Android platform Dave Burke writes in a short blog post, the new feature, named Device Protection, will keep the user's device locked unless he signs in with his Google account. Device Protection will still work even if someone else has reset the device to its factory settings, Burke says. If a smartphone with Device Protection turned on gets stolen, the thief will not be able to use the phone or access its contents at all.

"The feature will be available on most Android phones and tablets shipped with Android 5.1 in addition to Nexus 6 and Nexus 9," Burke says.

Device Protection is similar to Apple's Activation Lock feature introduced in iOS 7, which locks an iPhone unless the user authenticates his identity with his iCloud account login information.

Last month, Reuters reported that cases of iPhone theft in San Francisco were down by as much as 40 percent between September 2013 and September 2014. Similar declines were also reported in New York City, which saw iPhone thefts down by 25 percent and in London, where iPhone thefts were down by 50 percent.

Having a similar feature on phones running Android Lollipop 5.1 could lead to similar results, although right now only 3.3 percent of Android users have devices running on the latest Android version. A little more than 40 percent of Android users are still using phones running on Android KitKat, with plenty of them are still waiting for their wireless carriers to push out Android Lollipop to their devices.

Along with Device Protection, Google also introduced a handful of new features that help users "get more out of your Android phone and tablet." One of these features is support for multiple SIM cards, which lets users share devices in a single family and better manage data allowances. This new feature is more helpful in emerging markets where Google has introduced Android One and where phones are more likely to have hardware support for dual or multiple SIM cards.

Google also included support for high-definition voice calling for compatible devices, such as the Nexus 6 and Nexus 9, as well as the ability to join Wi-Fi networks or control Bluetooth devices via the Quick Settings panel. Also included are stability and performance improvements that address some of the bugs that plagued Android Lollipop when it was released. 

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