Is Apple planning to iBrick unlocked iPhones?

Summary:Wow! I didn't think that a short post on Apple's press release about how an upcoming iPhone firmware update might brick unlocked iPhones could generate so much email! I think that there must be a fair few unlocked iPhones out there.

Wow!  I didn't think that a short post on Apple's press release about how an upcoming iPhone firmware update might brick unlocked iPhones could generate so much email!  I think that there must be a fair few unlocked iPhones out there.

Rather than try to answer all the emails and comments individually I thought I'd compile an FAQ based on what we know about this update and its likely effects on unlocked iPhones.

Q: What do we know about the update?

A: All the information comes from an Apple press releases which came out yesterday.  Here's all that it contained:

Apple has discovered that many of the unauthorized iPhone unlocking programs available on the Internet cause irreparable damage to the iPhone’s software, which will likely result in the modified iPhone becoming permanently inoperable when a future Apple-supplied iPhone software update is installed. Apple plans to release the next iPhone software update, containing many new features including the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store, later this week. Apple strongly discourages users from installing unauthorized unlocking programs on their iPhones. Users who make unauthorized modifications to the software on their iPhone violate their iPhone software license agreement and void their warranty. The permanent inability to use an iPhone due to installing unlocking software is not covered under the iPhone’s warranty.

Q: Will this update brick my unlocked iPhone?

A: Maybe, maybe not.  What Apple said is:

... many of the unauthorized iPhone unlocking programs available on the Internet cause irreparable damage to the iPhone’s software, which will likely result in the modified iPhone becoming permanently inoperable when a future Apple-supplied iPhone software update is installed.

The key word there is "likely."  My guess is that if this update was safe, Apple wouldn't have said anything.  I seriously doubt that Apple would try to bluff people over this and if I had an unlocked iPhone I would take this warning seriously.

Q: How is this update sent to the iPhone?

A: Via iTunes.  It's not sent over the air (OTA) and users can decline the update if they wish.

Q: Do I have to install this update?

A: No.

Q: Am I covered by my warranty if my iPhone is bricked?

A: According to Apple, no.  However, if you bought it on a credit card you might be able to claim under insurance offered by your card provider [UPDATED - Most insurance policies won't cover you because you tampered with the phone].

Q: Can bricked iPhones be unbricked?

A: Depends on how clever the hackers are!

Q: What about iPhones unlocked to run third-party apps?  Will they be bricked?

A: Since Apple specifically refers to iPhones unlocked from AT&T, I'd say you're safe ... for now at any rate.

Q: Will I be able to unlock my iPhone after the update?

A: It is highly unlikely that current unlocking methods will work on an updated iPhone.  As to whether the new firmware can be unlocked, well, we'll have to wait and see how clever the hackers are!

Q: I paid $100 for the unlock tool - do I have any comeback against the seller?

A: Doubt it.  If you paid by credit card then maybe ... but probably not.

Q: Will I be able to roll back the firmware to a previous, unlockable, version?

A: No idea.

Q: If I have an unlocked iPhone can't I just restore the firmware to re-lock it and be safe from this update?

A: No, relocking an iPhone is far more complicated than that.  The Unofficial Apple Weblog has details on how to do this.  However, beware!  Some people seem to be having troubles with this relocking process.

Q: Is Apple deliberately bricking unlocked iPhones?

A: No idea, but I'm sure that the hackers will let us know soon enough!

Q: If an Apple update bricks my unlocked iPhone, can I sue?

A: I am not a lawyer, so I can't comment on this.

Q: I have an unlocked iPhone.  What do you suggest I do?

A: First off - Don't panic!  Apple can't push this update onto you without you agreeing to install it (assuming that Apple doesn't have a backdoor to the phone ...).  You can continue to run on the existing firmware for now, although I guess Apple could push the update as mandatory if you want to access iTunes later. 

What I'd do if I had an unlocked iPhone is sit tight and not install any updates.  Wait and see what happens and what the fallout it.  It's possible that iPhones won't be bricked and it's also possible that if they are, they can be unbricked somehow.  I wouldn't go doing anything rash such as trying to relock the phone because that could brick the phone itself.  Be patient!

Topics: iPhone, Apple, Smartphones

About

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes is an internationally published technology author who has devoted over a decade to helping users get the most from technology -- whether that be by learning to program, building a PC from a pile of parts, or helping them get the most from their new MP3 player or digital camera.Adrian has authored/co-authored technic... Full Bio

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