Recently, I was talking to a friend who lives in San Francisco about the fact that, in certain areas of the city, people have stopped using their iPhones and iPods while walking on the streets. The reason why, this friend explained, was that thieves had suddenly started just blatantly grabbing the Apple devices out of their owners hands, and – somewhat stunningly to me – gotten away with it. “Don’t other people see?” I asked, incredulously. “Doesn’t somebody try to stop this kind of thing happening?” My friend gave me the shrug, the one that you’ve seen a hundred times before, which roughly translates into, Don’t ask me. I’m just the messenger.
That conversation came to mind while reading this morning that 40 percent of all items stolen in New York City is an Apple product.
The statistic comes, via CNN’s Suzanne Kelly, from New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, speaking at this year’s Aspen Security Forum. That’s on top of a report issued by the New York Police Department last year that described mobile device theft as growing “exponentially,” with upwards of 26,000 incidents of electronics theft between January and October 2011 alone, 81 percent of those being cellphones (Information about that report comes via a story in the Wall Street Journal where writer Rolfe Winkler offers an answer to my earlier question about similar crime on the streets of San Francisco: “In a flash, a pair of hands dove into my date’s lap and ripped away her iPad. Chasing the guy was instinctive. But he had a crew backing him up that I never saw,” Winkler wrote. “Instead of winning back the iPad, I found myself lying on the platform bleeding, my jaw split in half.” Suddenly, I can understand why bystanders would pretend to look the other way).
The trend even has a nickname amongst law enforcement, apparently: “Apple Picking.” Prices for a “used” iPhone can reach up to $400, according to reports – Suddenly I see why eBay has remained a disappointment to me as I look to replace my old device – with previously-owned iPads apparently going for roughly the same amount. In an effort to curb the trend, cell carriers are rolling out a “blacklist” that will block handsets known to be stolen, but that is at best a stopgap measure en route to something more successful and permanent; after all, blacklists only work if (a) carriers know that handsets have been stolen, (b) the stolen handset’s secondary markets are within the US, and (c) handsets need cell-connectivity to work (Consider, for example, iPads or iPods, both of which can be just fine with WiFi).
Until then, Apple can rest assured of another cornered market, even if it’s one that they wouldn’t necessarily wish to boast about. For everyone else… Maybe you should just keep your phones and tablets hidden while in public, just in case.