iPhone unlock hack: cooked Apples or not?

Apple's iPhone has stirred both delight and angst amongst the tech digerati. On one hand, the iPhone is darned cool; on the other, ATT has an exclusive (and expensive) deal to provide cell phone service contracts for the iPhone.

Apple's iPhone has stirred both delight and angst amongst the tech digerati. On one hand, the iPhone is darned cool; on the other, ATT has an exclusive (and expensive) deal to provide cell phone service contracts for the iPhone.

As reported by fellow ZDNet blogger Jason D. O'Grady, solutions which break the ATT service lock are now available. Is Apple secretly happy about this?

ATT's response to the iPhone hacks is fairly straightforward (from Telecommunications Industry News):

ATT spokesman, Mark Siegel, said that could not speculate on the legality of hacking the iPhone, but hastened to remind users that by purchasing the device, they become contractually obliged to ATT.

“When people buy the iPhone it’s clear from our materials it’s designed to operate exclusively on ATT,” Siegel said. “When you sign up, you’re signing a two-year contract. You’re obligated to pay the bill.”

Apple's official response has been deafening silence, which I believe makes perfect sense. For contractual reasons, Apple itself can't open the iPhone to non-ATT networks. However, hacked iPhones will increase hardware sales, as customers of these other networks suddenly become potential iPhone buyers. This means additional revenue, and word of mouth promotion, for Apple.

In the short run, look for Apple to release firmware blocking the hacks, forcing iPhones back to ATT. The iPhone was released only a few months ago, so Apple has little choice but to maintain good relations with ATT.

Longer term, I think Apple won't push too hard against the unlockers. After all, it's in Apple's self-interest to turn a blind eye to a phenomenon which increases the iPhone's popularity.

In fairness, my fellow ZDNet colleague, Russell Shaw, disagrees with this point of view. He believes that:

Proprietary-culture oriented, litigiously-minded Apple and their CEO, one Mr. Jobs, can’t be too pleased about all these hacks.

Regardless of the outcome, this unfolding Apple cart promises to be interesting.

Update 9/14/07: Jason D. O'Grady reports that Apple is only offering iPhone rebates to purchasers who have activated their phones through ATT. Guess this qualifies as Apple's reponse to the unlock hacks.

Update 9/24/07: Apple is coming down hard on iPhone unlockers. For more information, see Larry Dignan's post on the subject.

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