Over the last few days, there’s been a bit of kerfuffle regarding the Apple Watch and its lack of anti-theft features, many of which are available on the iPhone. It seems to have come as a bit of a surprise that Watch OS 1.0 doesn’t bake in some of the nifty security features offered by the iPhone. There is no “Find My Watch” given its reliance on the partnering iPhone. I’m not alone in hoping that future versions offer more in the way of becoming truly independent devices, reducing their reliance on an iPhone. But here we are at the first generation Apple Watch and concerns that its lack of security features are troubling.
If you take off your Apple Watch, it will lock, which is fantastic. If someone swipes your watch or you somehow leave it where you’d lose it, your data is safe. That includes the all-important access to Apple Pay. Your credit cards and personal information are in no way accessible, provided they don’t crack your four digit code. The companion app has an option to erase all data after 10 passcode attempts. If you use any level of creativity with your passcode (don’t use all 1’s), your personal data shouldn’t be compromised.
A recent article over at iDownloadBlog illustrates what can happen if someone either steals or finds a lost Apple Watch. With little effort and without a passcode, the device can be reset to its factory default settings. If you press and hold the side button, the passcode screen will flash and you’ll see the Power Off, Power Reserve screen. A long, hard press and release provides an option to Erase All Content and Settings. Basically, it’s as if it were a new watch and can be paired with any iPhone. Contrast this with the iPhone, where Apple has made it impossible to restore a locked iPhone without a passcode. If you lose or have your watch stolen, those who take possession can sell for a significant monetary gain or use it.
This is no different than any expensive watch or smart watch. Imagine the horror when Rolex owners learn that their $20,000 timepieces don’t have an activation lock. As a matter of fact, I’d better check my wife’s engagement ring and see if it has any sort of tracking built-in.
Thefts of handheld devices, a good number of which were likely iPhones, clocked in at 1.6 million Americans in 2012. A number that’s dropped significantly in major cities, since the proverbial kill switch was instituted in September, 2013. In San Francisco, stolen iPhones dropped 40 percent and in NYC, the number is down 25 percent. Phones have been attractive for many reasons. For one, they can be resold or prior these changes, restored and used. There might be more lucrative targets than Apple Watch, but I could see how thieves might be interested for no other reason that wanting the watch.
Note, these statistics are for ‘handheld devices’. That certainly makes them more prone to snatch and grab thefts. There are no hard numbers, but I’d venture to guess this makes up the bulk of these robberies. Circling back to Apple Watch. For one, it becomes infinitely more difficult to steal, given that it’s attached to your person. Snatch and grab won’t work. It’s going to require a bit more effort, a confrontation or threat. That alone increases the difficulty and one would think, requires a more brazen criminal. And while the numbers are down significantly, it’s not as if iPhone thefts are a thing of the past. I’d be shocked if next year at this time we’re talking about Apple Watch thefts eclipsing iPhones. Not all thieves read MacRumors and they’ll continue to steal iPhones if it’s easy.
If you happen to live in a high crime area or big city, you should be taking the necessary precautions. For one, the easiest way to protect your watch or any electronics, is not to showcase them. It’s just one of many ways to avoid your chances of being robbed. I’ve got a fairly expensive Breitling that I wear on occasion. While I still consider NYC relatively safe, I don’t wear it when I go into the city. I’d say my chances of getting robbed are slim, but why increase those odds?
Would it be nice if the Apple Watch required a passcode to restore it? Sure and that might still happen at some point. It might reduce thefts, but it won’t eliminate them. At a minimum, it’d be nice to know the person who stole your watch is stuck with a paperweight. Watch OS is still in its infancy and Apple isn’t even close to meeting demand on the watch itself. We’re putting the horse before the cart with this stuff. In the meantime, if you’re one of the luck ones to actually have an Apple Watch, just use some common sense. And if someone threatens you, give them the watch and contact the police.