About 110 million iPods have been sold since they were introduced. And people have been murdered for them. And many iPod owners have had them stolen. Moreover, as Dateline discovered, Apple could easily track the thieves and help reunite the owners with their stolen iPods. However, despite an average of five or six calls per customer service rep per day asking for help with stolen iPods, Apple has stayed out of this problem.
Dateline's Chris Hansen created a ruse to find out whether he could track stolen iPods. He left 20 lying around for thieves to steal in cities around the U.S. And when the thieves registered their stolen iPods so they could buy songs from iTunes, Hansen had them send their name, address and other contact information to Apple and Dateline. Hansen then drove to the thieves' houses in an RV to give them a fake prize. At that point he listened to their explanations of how they got their iPods, then showed them the incriminating video of them stealing the iPods.
Although Apple has stayed out of this problem for some time, it may emerge as a hero. Just recently came word from the U.S. Patent Office that Apple has applied for a new patent. In its application, Apple confirms that there is a "serious problem" with iPod theft and that iPod owners have been seriously injured or even murdered for their iPods. And the company has proposed an ingenious solution to the problem: essentially, you can't recharge the iPod or the new iPhone if you can't prove the device is yours when you hook it up to iTunes.
Peter Cohan is President of Peter S. Cohan & Associates, a management consulting and venture capital firm. He also teaches management at Babson College and edits The Cohan Letter. He owns GE and has no financial interest in Apple.