Apple could brick its own devices to crack down on shoplifting

Apple Store
Image Credit: Apple (Image credit: Apple)

Given the cost of Apple products these days, it's no surprise that brick-and-mortar Apple Stores are still grappling with the issue of theft. When someone wanders out with an iPhone in the pocket of their hoodie, and isn't caught on camera, what is a poor multinational technology corporation meant to do?

The answer may be in a new wireless security system: one that can disable phone, tablets or laptops that have been smuggled out of the store. 

As reported by Patently Apple, the US Patent and Trademark Office has now published a patent filed by Apple on January 31, outlining the anti-shoplifting technology. It uses a host of security measures to leave Apple devices useless if they've been taken out of the store before paying.

iPhone thieves will find that the handset won't unlock, and will see a warning message on the screen asking whoever's handling the phone to return it. There's an image in the patent that says "This phone was removed from the store. Please give us a call so we can help you bring it back," though we expect this is placeholder copy and could vary.

Image Credit: Patently Apple

Image Credit: Patently Apple (Image credit: Patently Apple)

Thieves won't be able to use the unlock button to get into the phone, and the handset will send signals and location data back to the Apple mothership whenever passing through areas with open Wi-Fi.

After a certain amount of time outside the store – whether that's hours, days or weeks is unclear – the device will be permanently disabled.

A brand new iPhone is pretty costly: the cheapest iPhone XS Max model will cost $1,099 / £1,099 / AU$1,799, so it's no surprise that Apple is investing more in the security of its devices. 

While the steady increase in iPhone prices has been frustrating for many, it's even more infuriating to know someone got one for free – so while there's no telling when we'll see such a system implemented, we're all for Apple doing what it needs to.

Henry St Leger

Henry is a freelance technology journalist, and former News & Features Editor for TechRadar, where he specialized in home entertainment gadgets such as TVs, projectors, soundbars, and smart speakers. Other bylines include Edge, T3, iMore, GamesRadar, NBC News, Healthline, and The Times.