iPhone Update May Damage Unlocked Phones — But Will It Also Damage Apple?

from the be-careful-with-that dept

Apple has warned iPhone customers who have used third-party iPhone-unlocking software that installing an upcoming firmware update could render their phones "permanently inoperable." This has generated a lot of outrage on Slashdot, with some commenters faulting Apple for trying to lock consumers into a contract with AT&T, while others suggest that this might be an unavoidable consequence of making unauthorized modifications to the device. It's hard to justify being too upset at Apple here. Reports indicate that the company isn't trying to damage peoples' iPhones on purpose, it just hasn't tested the update with all of the unlocking programs folks are using. Given that Apple has said from the outset that such hacks are unsupported and strongly discouraged, Apple is entirely within its rights to blame the customer if the combination of user modifications and an Apple firmware update break their phones.But even if Apple is within their legal rights, releasing a firmware update that they know will break some phones is a terrible business strategy. It's never a good idea to anger your customers, and it certainly wouldn't be difficult for Apple to add a function to the firmware updater that checks the phone for unlocking software and warns the customer if a potential problem is detected. Users might still be annoyed at being unable to get the latest firmware, but that's better than silently turning their phone into a paperweight. More generally, Apple shouldn't underestimate the value of the unlockers to the iPhone product ecosystem. Those sorts of tech-savvy early adopters are the most likely to develop new and innovative uses for the product, thereby increasing its value for all customers. For example, podcasting has surely made the iPod more valuable; it was invented by tech hobbyists and only later integrated by Apple into iTunes. And if Apple plays hardball with phone-unlockers, that's not likely to enhance their bottom line. More likely, they'll most likely just persuade people who like tinkering with their gadgets to buy their next cell phone from another company.

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Comments on “iPhone Update May Damage Unlocked Phones — But Will It Also Damage Apple?”

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Joey says:


Simple, offer an iPhone for $799 that can go on every network, but do not buy a subsidized iPhone for ~$400 or less and then complain when you have to use the AT&T service.

I am a huge proponent of the open source communitty, but without Apple making a profit we do not get the incredibly awesome products they have rolled out!

Chuck says:

Re: Re:

It is yours. However, if you want to update it and you have unlocked it, you run the risk of it becoming a pretty paper weight.

Everyone knew going in that the iPhone was locked to AT&T and that unlocking it might have consequences. If being locked to AT&T lessened the value to these people, it apparently wasn’t enough to stop them from buying the phone.

ScaredOfTheMan says:

It smells

I don’t care how much revenue they think they are protecting by engaging in this silliness. I am not going to get into the legality argument either. The perception is, its mine, I paid for it, and AT&T did not give me a break on the price, even with the 2 year contract!

I can tell you this cast apple in such a bad light, I was seriously considering switching from Windows to a Mac, because all the DRM in Vista is just wrong, but now….the devil you know is better than the one you don’t.

My message to APPLE folks who are reading this… one Microsoft is enough, you will not beat M$ by emulating their most unpopular tactics. Don’t squander your user base’s good will.

Eric says:

Re: It smells

Eh, don’t be scared of Apple. This is the first time I’ve ever heard of them doing anything like this. Actually, I don’t think they’re really doing it. I think they are just releasing new firmware and they’re warning customers that HAVE unlocked the phone that it MAY break it. And since AT&T is on their back, they can’t support the hackers. I’ve been a loyal Mac user for over four years. I can’t say enough about the company or their products.

Anonymous Coward says:


Wasn’t the iPhone unsubsidized to begin with? Are the carriers explicitly not allowed to subsidize the price (since Apple fears it would canabolize their iPod sales)? The big selling point from Apple to carriers is that they carry no risk by selling the iPhone as opposed to handsets from other manufactures which are subsidized. This was known from the outset. What Apple is really trying to do is protect their revenue stream from their revenue sharing agreements with the carriers.

GreginChicagoland says:

Welcome to iBrick

I’m starting to lose sympathy for the early adopters who whinned about paying too much and now would be whinning again about their phone getting messed up after they started goofing around with it. Get over it. I’m tired of the complaints and hearing about them. The phone does some cool stuff and it doesn’t do some cool stuff. Maybe if you stop goofing around with it, it just might do the stuff you want to do in the future-providing you don’t kill it first.
There, I feel better now.

CharlieHorse says:

hmmm ...

while I agree that it is a foolhardy marketing strategy for Apple to release firmware update that will turn an “unlocked” iPhone into a paperweight – I seriously doubt this will happen.

The reality is probably closer to the fact that Jobs & Co. have to at least give the appearance of trying to remain within their contract with AT&T – lest they get hit with a fat daddy of a lawsuit.

the contract with AT&T (love it or hate it) says they will build iPhones for x time period that will be released only for AT&T network (they also get a kickback for every new AT&T subscriber btw …) I also personally hope that x time period expires very soon. judging Jobs by his marketing savvy, I wager it won’t be *too* much longer before open iPhones come out.

I think this may be – well, let me re-phrase – I *hope* this is nothing more than saber rattling by Apple to appease the more bloodthirsty of AT&T’s lawyers who may be looking for a reason …

sort of a cya by Apple to at least give the appearance of due diligence in standing by the terms of their contract with AT&T is my guess.

in the long run, it won’t really matter anyway, as iPhoneDev will simply hack it again and fix the break or break the fix or whatever and Jobs gets his way anyway. (i.e. more iPhones sold and in use no matter the network.)

this may have been in the cards all along – I doubt any of this comes as a surprise to Apple – so it’ll be interesting to see what happens with the firmware update …

PS – and in an off-topic this shows one of the reasons for open access to the networks (ala Google’s idea re: the 700MHz spectrum sale – which I now hear Apple may bid on ?)

Anonymous Coward says:

This is really stupid. If you hacked Windows OS or Mac OS that was later hosed by an software update would you blame MS or Apple for your PC no longer working? You hacked it! You can’t expect any company to extend a warranty to people who made unauthorized changes to the product.

You may own the cellphone hardware but you only license the software. The true owners, AT&T and Apple, have every right to update their property without consideration to your unauthorized modifications.

You hack it, suck it up.

Anonymous Coward says:

It seems simpler then this…Is apple supposed to test every version of every hack and reprogram their update to work with all of them?
Apple from the beginning said this would be a closed system. This way they would presumibly not run into the problems Microsoft has, whereby every release, patch, or upgrade causes problems with someones system.
They should at least offer a way for a person to NOT upgrade the phone. The hacker takes it as he made it.

common_sense says:

suck it

absolutely right… ANONYMOUS COWARD said it like it is. bottom line is if a consumer purchases an item knowing its abilities and limitations, then they are by default accepting those conditions. if you change that item by hacking it, then you are responsible for any future problems with it. suck it up, folks… this is even more applicable with technology items of hardware that incorporate software and use or require updates. if you don’t like it, build your own product or buy a different one. this almost reaks of the overall entitlement attitude of the technology generation.

Anonymous Coward says:

“This has nothing to do with proactively disabling a phone that is unlocked or hacked,” Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide product marketing, said in an interview. “It’s unfortunate that some of these programs have caused damage to the iPhone software, but Apple cannot be responsible for … those consequences.” (Read the AP Article)

You can’t expect Apple to test a firmware release on unlocked iPhones to make sure they work. All they are doing is saying that they don’t know what will happen. And as it turns out, it seems that the warning is aimed more towards phones that were unlocked by being physically modified. Software unlocked iPhones should be just fine. And what if any update at all would brick a physically unlocked iPhone? Would you suggest that Apple not update the iPhones at all?

The AppleTV has been hacked quite a bit, but Apple to my knowledge hasn’t complained. I don’t think they mind people messing with things, but the fact is if you are hacking anything you have to be prepared for the risks. If you go off the farm you can’t hold Apple accountable for what happens. That is all Apple is saying.

His Shadow says:

Going to AOL Anonymous Coward and common_sense. I’m going to add the simple fact that much of this outrage is phony, in that it is originating from people who neither own nor will own an iPhone.

Do any of the jackasses fomenting this panic and FUD understand what a warranty is? That if they modify in a fundamental way the operating system or physical parameters of a closed device that they have absolutely no one to blame but themselves? Apple will update the iPhone’s software as required and as they see fit, and said updates will operate on the assumption of unmolested hardware and software. You screw with that, and an Apple update breaks your iPhone, you are fucked. And Apple has absolutely nothing to answer for if that does indeed occur. Any other interpretation is complete and utter garbage, and with most of the garbage on the web concerning Apple these days, it’s faux outrage generated and propagated by asshats still pissed that Apple survived into this Millennium.

Chuck says:

Enough with the pointless whining, I want to know why I can’t get a stainless steel iPhone that matches my computer case. What right does Apple have to make only a brushed aluminum phone? If I open the iPhone, take the innards out and put them in my custom built stainless steel housing the warranty had better be good or I am going to sue.

Apple sucks!

Just kidding Mr Jobs

James says:

The post is wrong

Apple released a product that purchasers KNEW from the outset could only be used with AT&T. Its not their fault if you choose to monkey around with it and it breaks. Too bad for you.. suck it up.

The best way for people to teach Apple a lesson, about getting in bed w/AT&T on a 2yr dumbass contract, is by NOT buying the thing. Let it die on the vine then maybe they’ll get a clue.

If you already bought it, and you unlocked it, and it breaks.. well, sucks to be you.

Clueby4 says:

Um What?

Sorry, but it you can’t disable automatic firmware updates, even on a non-hacked phone, then it is intentional/”proactive”.

Are the implying that non-hack iphones *need* firmware updates to continue to function? I would think any reasonable person would find that unacceptable.

I have a ipod, never performed a firmware update, still works. I would hope, being reasonable, that the same would hold true of any product I own. Unless, I’m looking to add functionality or resolve a defect, I see no reason to perform a firmware update. Firmware updates are risky to being with, and it provides a means to reduce functionality

Jubjub says:

...and it makes fresh juices, too!

If Apple hadn’t disclosed all the disadvantages before people bought the thing, I could understand all the outrage. But come on people! Some of these posts are like “I bought an MacBook Pro and I altered it so it would jullienne potatoes and double as a crock-pot, and now it can’t get updated without breaking! Fie on Apple for this outrage!” get a GRIP.

I waited and bought a 16gb iPod Touch. It is as close to the god-head as an inanimate object can become. I spend nights sacrificing sheep to it

Anonymous Coward says:

The message it sends to me is “Don’t buy an iPhone.” The secondary message is “Be wary of buying from Apple.”

It is too bad Apple squandered a lot of the goodwill they had accumulated with great products like the iPod and iPhone. Worse, it appears to be just a snit on their part to teach unlockers a lesson. Let’s hope Apple is the one who learned an important lesson.

sammy colbert says:

the other side

How can Apple be responsible for hacked iPhones? If Apple releases a new update, how can they possibly be sure it doesn’t break a hacked iPhone? They would have to go out of their way to preserve hacks going forward. Apple is surely in a difficult place here and so I think it easiest if they simply state that new software will break your iPhone hack and then let the buyer beware.

17679 says:

just a thought:

wouldn’t it be nice if apple would just open the iphone to all cellphone carriers and use the same contract they have with at&t to get a certain percentage of shares? and the only competition with such carriers is who would subsidize the price of the iphone the most. wouldn’t it be such a great deal for us and for apple who would be able to sell their phones who doesn’t like at&t? and at the same time increasing the iphone sales in the market.

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