Thanks to a court injunction in Germany, T-Mobile is now prohibited (in the short term at least) from exclusively selling iPhones locked to a 24 month contract or iPhones locked so that they can only be used in a T-Mobile network. T-Mobile will also unlock handsets that have already been sold free of charge. This is the beginning of the end of Apple's vise-like grip on the iPhone.
This ruling tells us a lot about the iPhone:
- First, and most importantly, there is a simple, hassle-free way to unlock the iPhone that will presumably be update-safe
- Second, that T-Mobile know how to do it
But there's greater significance to this story. This is that now once hackers get their hands on an unlocked iPhone they will be able to figure out how to safely unlock the handset in such a way that future updates won't result in iPhones becoming iBricks. What unlocks the iPhone in Germany will, without a doubt, unlock the iPhone everywhere. Pretty soon this information will be widely available and unlocking an iPhone will be as quick and simple as unlocking any other handset. This could well explain Apple's recent move to restrict the sale of iPhones to two per person. This way it can stem the sale of unlocked handsets. However, given the widespread interest in unlocking the handset, and that people are willing to risk having their handset trashed by dubious hacks, I can only assume that an easy way to free the iPhone from the official carrier will see the popularity of the iPhone increase but the revenue Apple gets from subscribers not increase at the same pace.
What Apple could do to counter this is force users to register and activate the handset at the time of purchase, thus forcing them into a contract immediately.
Apple's cash cow looks like it might be drying up a bit.