He and his date were riding a New York subway in Brooklyn. Just before the doors closed at a stop, some guy grabbed his date's iPad and took off out of the car.
Winkler chased the guy--only to get clobbered by an assistant on the platform. He ended up with a broken jaw.
Thus starts Winkler's story about the rise in "iCrime"--muggers stealing iPhones, iPads, and other "smart" devices and then selling them in secondary markets.
The cops call it "Apple picking." The devices are so valuable and easy to fence these days that the industry is booming. There were 26,000 "incidents" of this in New York in the first 10 months of last year, the vast majority of which involved smartphones.
A "secondhand" iPhone can apparently fetch $400 once it has been wiped clean. Many of them are shipped overseas, where new iPhones can cost $1,000.
Earlier this year, a man in the Bronx was shot dead for his iPhone. A guy in Denver had part of his finger ripped off when thieves ripped an Apple Store bag out of his hands. Rolfe Winkler had to drink through a straw for a month.
The way to prevent this is to make the stolen devices worthless (or close), so carriers are discussing the idea of giving each device a unique ID that can only be used by the owner. To prevent stolen devices from being used on WiFi, meanwhile, it might be possible to allow users (or the manufacturers) to remotely bork the devices if they are stolen--sort of like cancelling a stolen credit card.
(This solution reminds me of the solution to the wave of car-radio theft that hit cities in the 1980s. Walking around the streets of New York in those days, you'd see car windows smashed all over the place. One of the first solutions was allowing owners to remove their stereo systems when they left the cars--sliding them out like a book. The more successful and convenient solution, if memory serves, was electronically encoding the devices so they wouldn't function if they were removed from the car.)
In any event, our sympathies to Rolfe Winkler for his broken jaw. And don't get engrossed in your device on the street or subway, especially when the doors are about to close...