September 25, 2007

iPhone unlock warranty kerfluffle

So Apple finally responds to software unlocks for the iPhone, and it ain't the smiling tolerance of Aunt Edna:
CUPERTINO, Calif., Sept. 24 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- 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.

(above text nabbed from Gizmodo.)

While this isn't Happy Fun News for those folks trying to use their phones on other networks, and really isn't Happy Fun News for those jag-offs trying to make business plans out of unlocking the things, I find myself in the uncomfortable position of saying "Um, not sure why this such a big deal." Seriously. First of all, let's try to separate intentional cockblocking from normal, responsible-to-shareholder corporate ass-covering, shall we?

Apple has just been through a fairly expensive customer-satisfaction exercise involving the iPhone, namely the rebate. Yes, that's pretty much entirely their own fault, no sympathy there. However, look at unlocks in that context - software designed to muck around with the internals of the phone in such a way as to prevent it from functioning normally (normally read 'as intended'). While using the loaded word 'damage' is debatable, it requires no big stretch of imagination to posit that even if current solutions haven't done so, it is possible (using those techniques) to make changes to firmware or other internals of the iPhone which not only temporarily prevent it from functioning properly but which (most importantly) prevent the dock-with-iTunes-restore method from functioning - even if they don't do actual irreparable damage to the device.

If that happens, suddenly an iPhone which is under warranty becomes a dollar liability to Apple, who must consider the possibility that the person who downloaded our notional misbehaved hack will simply march up to an Apple store and demand a new phone. Is that really Apple's problem? We can debate that, obviously. However, from Apple's point of view, hell no it isn't. This is the electronic equivalent of 'no user serviceable parts inside.'

This won't stop dedicated hackers. They possess the skills required to resurrect an iPhone which stops responding to iTunes, if that's actually possible, and they're much less likely to walk into an Apple Store and say 'hi, I broke this' if for no other reason than they want to figure out what went wrong and fix the problem. It will ensure that if a broken hack is released into the wild, Apple won't suffer financial repercussions from people gleefully downloading and using a piece of lowlevel software which Apple can't possibly have tested for safety.

I'm disinclined to worry about non-radio system hacks, either. In the above text, Apple very clearly (thrice) refers to 'unlocking software' rather than simply 'unauthorized software.' This makes it pretty clear that they're not too chuffed about your copy of Minesweeper or your install of Frotz. Especially when we consider the mechanism for updates that we've seen so far - if the update doesn't like your phone's checksum, it just restores it and then updates it. This is a pain in the ass, but it does guarantee (from Apple's point of view) that when the update is complete, you have a working phone with Apple Approved software on it. Sure, you have to hack it again to put your apps back on, and that sucks. On the other hand, if the phone was working enough to respond to the updater and complete the process, then you should be able to do so.

Enough verbage (too much, really). I, too, am ticked about Apple's stance on third-party apps for the iPhone. I rely on them to make mine into the usable device it is now as opposed to the pretty device it was when I bought it. On the other hand, I'm not going to run out and declare Doom Upon The Mothership for a little normal corporate legal shielding - even I don't see why they should be fiscally responsible if you've been mucking around with your phone deep enough to screw with its radio hardware and it gets broke as a result.

Posted by jbz at September 25, 2007 10:15 AM | TrackBack

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