9to5Mac is probably raising some concern among Apple Watch users today, claiming that an a "bug" allows thieves to easily factory reset Apple's smartwatch without knowing your personal code. And everything about that sentence is true except for one thing: this isn't a loophole or any type of bug. It's the way Apple designed things, but whether that was the right move is up for debate. (iDownloadBlog first reported on the issue and didn't describe it as a bug or loophole.)
This is explicitly outlined in Apple's own Apple Watch user guide. The company frames it as a way to restore your Watch's functionality if you should somehow totally blank on your passcode.
How exactly do you "reset Apple Watch and pair it again" if you don't know the code? To see the option for a factory reset, you hold the side button until the menu with three options (power off, power reserve, and lock device) appears. Then you force touch on that screen for another, hidden option: erase all content and settings. This does the same thing on the Watch as it does on your iPhone. It wipes out the entire thing and erases all of your private data. The option to completely reset Apple Watch is only available when it's attached to a charger, which means for all practical purposes it's impossible to wipe on the go.
Passcode can be trusted to protect your personal data
For now, the sole purpose of passcode is protecting your information. And from that perspective, there's no way to trip up Apple's security measure. We haven't yet seen any loopholes for getting around the passcode and into the Watch's core functions without a full factory reset. Much like on iPhone, you can also set the Apple Watch to automatically erase itself after 10 failed passcode attempts.
But the Apple Watch is incredibly easy to steal
Here's the sad truth: the very expensive Apple Watch is now also the easiest Apple gadget to steal. For Apple's smartwatch, there is no such thing as Activation Lock, the anti-theft measure that makes stolen iPhones useless to thieves. Introduced in 2013, Activation Lock requires your Apple ID password after a factory reset and before it can be activated and used once more. If someone else has your iPhone but doesn't have your password, all they can really do is sell Apple's smartphone for parts (or, you know, be a decent person and return it). Police immediately praised the feature and urged everyone to switch it on.
The Apple Watch doesn't have Activation Lock or any equivalent designed for a wrist-worn device. Nor can you locate it with Apple's "Find My iPhone" app, which can track the last known whereabouts of your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or even a Mac. That second part makes sense since the Apple Watch doesn't have a GPS chip inside. But the smartwatch can connect to known Wi-Fi networks, so theoretically Apple could offer some idea of where it last held an internet connection, even if there's no way to guarantee that's where your Watch stayed. As of now, the option's just not there. Your Watch can help find your phone, but nothing exists to help recover the Watch.
There has got to be a better way to lock this thing down
For the sake of fairness, it's worth nothing that Android Wear smartwatches are similarly vulnerable to theft. The latest big update added the ability to secure your information with a pattern lock code. But here again, thieves can just reset the whole watch and start using it as their own — or resell it. Google hasn't figured this one out yet, either.
The Apple Watch and Android Wear smartwatches are no easier or more difficult to steal than other watches. Do prized Rolexes or Tag Hauer watches come with anti-theft measures built in? Of course not. But long before tech companies were mandated to do so by law, Apple put its foot down with Activation Lock and signaled that the company was going the extra mile to protect its users and their hard-earned technology. Right now, the Apple Watch, which ranges between $349 and $17,000, falls short in this department. And there's no way Apple isn't aware of that. What would a better option look like? That's for Apple to come up with, and the company is almost certainly working on it as we speak. As always, it'll have to find the right balance between truly locking down an expensive device and inconveniencing users.
With the product being so new, there haven't been many headlines about Apple Watch muggings or ugly theft incidents yet, and hopefully there won't be. But take a look at Craigslist or eBay, and you'll see Apple's smartwatch selling for way above its retail value. For thieves, the temptation is there. Apple can play a huge part in dissuading them by making sure your Watch stays yours — or at least rendering it useless to anyone else.