Monday, July 22, 2013

Want to Steal My Mobile Phone? I Didn't Think So

Hardware is getting so cheap that it's hardly worth stealing.


Want to steal my mobile phone?


I didn't think so. You may think the point of this post is that some old guys are too dumb or poor or Neo-Luddite to have smart phones, but you'd be wrong (not about some old guys being Neo-Luddites when it comes to smart phones, but about the intent of the post).

Or maybe you're guessing that the post is about the remarkable durability of ancient technology (i.e. this Nokia phone). Once again you'd be wrong (not about the durability of this phone, but about the intent of the post).

The point is that hardware is getting so cheap, it's hardly worth stealing. The value of this phone has been reduced to the few calls you could make before the account is closed, not because it's been thrashed but because dumb phones are essentially free now.

The cost of a low-end but fully functional PC chipset is $25. Fully functional Android-powered tablets are $40 in China. How long will it take before some manufacturer assembles a low-cost smart phone chipset with a cheap, low-rez screen running Android and sells it for $40?

Thieves snatch iPhones out of teens' hands because they cost $500 and have a high street value. Once smart phones with most of the same capabilities as iPhones and Galaxy phones are available for next to nothing, the street value of all but the highest-end phones will be near-zero.

Consider flat-screen televisions. Yes, they're still expensive if you want a 2-meter screen, but if you're OK with a slightly less than 1-meter (32-inch) screen, they're about $200.

Is it really worth breaking into somebody's house for a TV that's worth $25 at the swap meet? That's why smash-and-grab thieves stick to jewelry, laptops and cameras.

The price of cameras and tablets are dropping fast, too, and perhaps the days of sub-$200 low-performance but fully functional laptops is closer than most imagine. The form-factor is maybe $25, the chipset $25, the keyboard $5, and the screen maybe $40, and the speaker/camera a few bucks.

The abundance and low cost of stuff is reducing the street value of hardware and many goods to next to nothing. Value of particle-board furniture: near-zero. Value of rusty cheap bicycle: near zero. Value of dumb phones: near zero. Value of surplus clothing: near-zero.

Unless the household contains real jewelry, burglars will find precious little worth stealing in the average household once low-cost tablets, cameras and laptops sell for $10 at the swap meets.
Throw in the risk of being caught on camera by cheap security systems and being pursued by a cheap privately operated drone, and much of the thievery game starts losing its appeal.

White-collar crime where the thieves are skimming millions remains lucrative, of course, and the risks of getting prosecuted are near-zero. But that's another post.... 



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