A new way to measure the popularity of the iPhone

True story: Back when I was working at Apple, we received a report that there had been a burglary at a company that had a lot of Macintosh computers. The thieves took every one of the Macs -- and left behind all the Windows PCs.

We were delighted. Not about the burglary, mind you. I'm afraid we were pretty callous about that, and besides we figured the company was insured. But we loved the idea that even criminal lowlifes knew which was the better computer.

In fact, we loved that idea so much that we made a commercial about it. It was cool -- deep blue lighting, lots of shadows, and two silhouettes moving silently through the office. One of them starts to pick up a PC, and his companion hisses, "not those, just take these." And he points at a Mac.

The Computer for the Rest of Us, indeed.

At the last minute, somebody in the company realized that the commercial might just possibly be viewed as an endorsement of crime, besides which it made us look like complete mercenaries. So I don't think the commercial was ever aired. We just watched it a lot at communication meetings.

I thought of that old commercial today when I was in an AT&T (formerly Cingular) mobile phone store. There was a big video display for the iPhone, but no phones on the counter. "Did they sell out?" I asked the clerk.

"Nope. Someone broke in and stole them," he said. "We saw it on the surveillance video. They were in and out in 30 seconds. They ran over to the iPhones, cut the cables, and left."

"Did they take anything else?" I asked, thinking I saw a new commercial in the making.

"Oh yeah, they took the Treos too."

Sorry, Apple. No commercial.

And sorry, RIM. They left the Blackberries. Personally, I would have grabbed a Pearl on the way out.

By the way, if you're thinking of buying an iPhone on eBay, keep in mind -- the other thing the AT&T guy told me is that the iPhones are all serialized, and Apple can permanently turn off the ones that were stolen.