End of the road for unlocked iPhones

End of the road for unlocked iPhones

Summary: So, Apple is planning to put an end to all this iPhone unlocking business by sending an update down the iTunes pipeline which, according to Apple, will make them "permanently inoperable."

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So, Apple is planning to put an end to all this iPhone unlocking business by sending an update down the iTunes pipeline which, according to Apple, will make them "permanently inoperable."

Here's are the highlights of the press release [emphasis added]:

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.

So, the bottom line is that if you have unlocked your iPhone and you install the update due out this week, it's likely that this update will brick your iPhone and there's no point going back to Apple crying about it because you invalidated your own warranty.

[poll id=180]

Really makes you feel for people who paid top whack for the iPhone and then another $100 for the unlock program and then end up with a bricked iPhone.

I have two serious questions for Apple regarding this iPhone update:

  • What is this "irreparable damage" caused to the iPhone during the unlocking process?
  • Is it absolutely necessary to trash unlocked iPhones? 

Here's my hallucination as to how things are going to play out:

  • The update will trash unlocked iPhones
  • Hackers will figure out how to unbrick bricked iPhones
  • Hackers will figure out how to unlock the new firmware
  • Hackers will tear apart the new firmware update looking for evidence that Apple has maliciously bricked unlocked iPhones
  • This hard-line approach will dampen enthusiasm for unlocked iPhones

My ZDNet blogging colleague Larry Dignan has more thoughts here.

Topics: iPhone, Apple, CXO, Mobility, IT Employment

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Talkback

40 comments
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  • Get ready for a lawsuit Apple will lose

    http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/infolaw/2006/11/22/thanksgiving-for-new-dmca-exceptions/
    [B]a new provision allowing circumvention of access controls in cell phone handsets that can prevent use of the phone on other wireless carriers (including using your GSM phone in Europe ? sort of defeats the purpose of GSM if you are ?locked in? by your domestic carrier?).[/B]

    If it isn't illegal, even in this DMCA's country, to unlock your phone, Apple making it into a brick will be against the law.

    TripleII

    P.S. I would not expect Apple to try anything less, if the iPods work on Linux, try to mess with them for no reason that to mess with them.
    http://www.linuxtoday.com/security/2007091701126NWHW
    TripleII-21189418044173169409978279405827
  • Door #3

    This is wonderful news.

    Apple is doing the US public a tremendous favor by creating the hard-line poster child for consumer rights regarding wireless carriers, "licensed" purchases, etc.

    Up until now, the ruling class was able to look the other way and pretend that there wasn't a problem. Now it looks like our Lords and Masters will be faced with a high-profile case of mass product sabotage on the eve of a major US election.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • It really is a stupid move

      As Adrian pointed out, the proof will be in the code, mailicious bricking for the sake of bricking the phone and not allowing fair use. I think Apple might be thinking the iPhone is the industry standard already.

      TripleII
      TripleII-21189418044173169409978279405827
      • Reading the statement...

        ...it sounds more like Apple is just warning people that the next update COULD "brick" the iPhone, not that it WILL. Apple may be able to claim that it was just a by-product of installing the upgrade, and not intentional. Whether that will fly, I don't know.

        What will be REALLY interesting is if any of the usual suspects try to defend this, and on what grounds. Apple has long been noted for wanting to exercise full control over its products, as evident in the inability to run OS X on just any old hardware. This policy has long been defended on the grounds of quality. Can that same justification be applied here?

        Carl Rapson
        rapson
        • In isolation, I could agree

          but as you say, Apple has a history of throwing a monkey wrench in the works to keep control of their hardware. Also, you can be sure, beyond any doubt, they have unlocked a hundred phones in every way possible to learn about it. To claim that it "unknowingly" bricked a phone will be hard to sell.

          We will see once some very smart and motivated people unbrick the brick as Adrian said.

          TripleII
          TripleII-21189418044173169409978279405827
  • So what does the contract say?

    I'm certain there was some form of contract that needed to be signed when you purchase an iPhone. If the language says you can only use AT&T, then unlocking your phone was in violation and Apple should be able to brick you phone.

    Now if there was no mention of required service with AT&T, then Apple can't brick your phone.

    My guess is they have already covered their butt.
    Joe_Racer
    • Re: the contract

      There is one tiny problem with this--other than the fact that deliberately bricking people's iPhones would likely prove to be a suicide attempt from a p.r. standpoint--contracts do not supersede the law. So if the law says people can modify their cell phones to use other networks, there's very little that any contract can do about this.

      Now, if AT&T wanted to pursue legal action for breach of contract against the people who modded the iPhones, that's another matter entirely (though depending on how they go about it, it may still be construed as a clumsy 800-lb gorilla throwing its weight around).
      Third of Five
    • Covering their butts

      Umm....isn't this obvious to anyone else?

      Revenue-sharing plan. Why would they want you to unlock the phone if it's taking money out of their pocket? If you don't use AT&T, then they don't get part of the monthly contract fee you are paying.

      They may have "covered their butt" in the contract, but it is illegal to prohibit people from unlocking their cell phones for use on any carrier they want. If they do this, they are explicitly breaking the law and could get in some serious trouble if enough fuss is made.

      Regardless of whether you have "bought" or "licensed" the software, there is little argument that the hardware is bought, paid for, and under the ownership of the end-user upon purchase. Bricking the phone is rendering the device useless. That's vandalism at best.
      laura.b
  • Coyote vs Road Runner

    But not nearly as entertaining to watch as the old cartoons.
    John L. Ries
  • DEFEND THE QUEEN!!!

    The raving lunatic Apple zealots who say [b]"THIS IS MY MACHINE, HOW DARE MICROSOFT CRIPPLE MY MACHINE, BLAH BLAH, FROTH, FROTH"[/b] when their pirated copy of XP gets nuked although their computer is still 100% usable. The complaint is a lie because Microsoft [b]never[/b] bricks your computer and your computer will be more than happy to accept the installation of any OS you choose. You own your computer and nothing MS has ever done has ever changed that.

    In this case though, Apple [b]WILL[/b] cripple your [b]HARDWARE[/b]. You don't own your iPhone folks. Nope, Apple reserves the right to [b]BRICK *THEIR*[/b] iPhone if they have the slightest suspicion that you were using [b]THEIR[/b] iPhone for any purpose that Steve Jobs thinks will lower his bank balance.

    So, how many of the people who bemoan (falsely) their lack of computer ownership when Microsoft is involved do you think will be as vocal about the iPhone? As Harry would put it: don't complain, don't whine, don't moan, [b]VOTE WITH YOUR WALLET AND NEVER, EVER BUY ANY APPLE PRODUCT AGAIN[/b].

    I [b]LOVE[/b] shoving Apple zealot "logic" right back in their faces and then watch them squirm as they try to apologize for the multi-billionaires at Apple!

    snicker, smirk :)
    NonZealot
    • Which Zealots?

      Seriously, not a single talkback here is defending Apple, to the contrary, it is not coming across well. You should have read over and subtly added to the conversation. The vehemence of, again, which Zealot?, of your statement does a disservice, even when I completely agree with you.

      TripleII
      TripleII-21189418044173169409978279405827
    • In this case...

      ...I have to admit I haven't seen anyone yet try to defend this move by Apple, so in this case I think you're jumping the gun at best. It is telling, though, that the "usual suspects" who are always so quick to jump to Apple's defense have been strangely silent on this matter.

      Carl Rapson
      rapson
      • What's telling about it

        OK. I'll bite.

        I think the raving ranting that Apple is deliberately trying to brick phones is zealotry at work.

        This sounds more like a lawyer CYA document so that if a phone does brick, for whatever reason, after an update, Apple attorneys can tell people: Hey, we warned you, when they get sued.

        It's the same mentality that results in putting labels on oven doors telling you not to stand on them.

        There. Now, because I'm not hysterical and automatically assuming Jobs is sitting in a smoke-filled room with his software engineers telling them to find out a way to brick all those rogue phones, I'm an Apple zealot.
        frgough
  • Anyone stupid enough to buy Apple crap

    deserves what they get,Jobs just like Gates believe that they can do what they want with impunity and get away with it ,so far they have been proved right because no matter how low they go all you morons keep buying their shitty software and over priced penis extensions and then are surprised when they screw you,WAKE UP they don't care what you say or think because they know that no matter what they do you will whine and moan and then pull out your credit cards to pay them to rape you again!!
    wizardb@...
    • AMEN!

      AMEN!
      Doink
  • As with any software license...

    you don't own the software in the iPhone, only license it. It's in the agreement that
    every iPhone owned signed.

    By mucking with the software, you've broken the contract.
    msalzberg
    • The contract is not enforceable

      Customers have NO RIGHT to expect software support should they unlock their phones, and if it doesn't work due to their own hand, then to bad, so sad, go cry in your soup. So, on the software side, I agree with you, however, as a piece of hardware, the world got to where it is today by people, intelligent curious people using hardware in ways it was never intended and come up with something new. If someone creates a mod with their hardware that solves world hunger via green tinted images, they have every right, and Apple has no right to break the hardware to SPITE the customers.

      Repeating, the DMCA has a specific exception now that makes it LEGAL to unlock wireless devices for ANY USE the customer wants. Apple will be in a world of hurt if it intentionally breaks hardware because people don't want to use Apple's software.

      TripleII

      P.S. The same way (although there is no mechanism) Apple would lose if they could brick their computer because someone had the nerve to run YellowDog Linux on it. When you buy the hardware, fortunately, in this country, you still own it. Take a hammer to it, mod the heck out of it, all legal.
      TripleII-21189418044173169409978279405827
      • If, when buying a product,

        you actively sign on the dotted line at the bottom of the contract, you've agreed to
        those terms.

        That's what a contract is. You can't sign it and then say I don't agree with it. You
        are given a choice at point of sale. That's why shrink wrapped EULAs haven't stood
        up in court - you have to open the (non-returnable) package to read it.

        In this case, the buyer has an obligation, as well as the seller.

        At least, that's how I treat contracts that I sign.
        msalzberg
        • One more time...

          NO contract can overturn a law. The law currently is that phones can be unlocked to be used on another carrier. Doesn't matter if you agree to the contract or not, it's still not above the law.
          rtk
          • But if you sign a contract...

            agreeing not to muck around with the software, it's that part of the contract you've
            broken. It doesn't matter why you did it.
            msalzberg