Even the Apple Watch that costs $17,000 is an easy target for theft

The watch that Katy Perry and Drake own is not protected by Activation Lock.

030915 apple watch edition gold

Be careful with that new Apple Watch, Katy Perry. You too, Drake and Beyoncé.

Recent reports revealed how thieves could reset even the priciest versions of the Watch, which makes it a prime target. As The Verge pointed out, that makes it no less protected than any Rolex, but it’s surprising that Apple obviously could have added an anti-theft feature and chose to skip that feature.

If you are not aware of the long, sordid history of “halo gadget” theft (I just coined that term -- it means a desirable gadget that’s hard to get and prone to theft), Apple originally made the iPhone without any real theft-tracking features. If someone stole the phone, they could just perform a factory reset and, boom, good as new. With iOS 7, a new feature called Activation Lock meant thieves would have to know your Apple ID password even after a reset. It's one reason the iPhone 6 is not as big a target.

Why is the most expensive Apple Watch Edition, the one made out of 18-karat gold, not protected with Activation Lock or some other feature that makes it harder for criminals to steal the watch, perform a reset, and sell it again? Here’s my theory. They forget.

In the rush to bring the Watch to market, there are certain features that “sell” a new device, and those are always the focus. You can draw cute little diagrams on the Apple Watch and send them to your girlfriend. You can order a pizza. But Apple has a history of adding security features after launch because they are not a big priority. The infamous celebrity photo hack of 2014 proved that theory. It was all-too-easy for criminals to break into the cloud storage archive by guessing passwords (or, more likely, running password generators).

Here’s where things get tricky for Apple. The company has never released a gadget that is anywhere near this expensive (unless you count, as Yahoo! News pointed out, the highest-end Mac Pro at $22,000 with every feature and accessory imaginable--and I don’t. It’s not really a gadget.) There was a big opportunity here to show the world that, if you sleep at night on a bed of cash and shell out an enormous sum for a fancy timepiece that also lets you order a fake taxi, then Apple has your back.

When will it get fixed? I’m predicting that there will be an Activation Lock feature by next month or sooner, one that also forces you to enter the Apple ID after a reset. And, by the way, uses cell phone triangulation or some other method to locate the Watch. (Right now, the poorly named Find My iPhone feature doesn’t work because the Watch doesn’t have GPS.) It might be nice for this Watch update to let you perform other security functions, like disabling payment features quickly.

Hopefully, the anti-theft feature won’t be called NotBeyoncé.


Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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