Hacking may silence iPhones

Times Staff Writer

san francisco -- Apple Inc. issued a warning Monday to iPhone customers who have found ways to uncouple Apple’s device from the AT&T; Inc. wireless service: If your iPhone breaks, don’t come crying to us.

Apple said many of the unauthorized software programs used to “unlock” iPhones from AT&T; were damaging the devices. The Cupertino, Calif., company warned that updated software it periodically sent out might not work with phones that had been unlocked -- and could render the iPhones unusable.

Hacking the iPhone is a violation of customers’ software license agreement and not covered under the warranty, Apple reiterated.

The warnings came in response to a slew of underground efforts to let the iPhone, which combines an iPod, Web browsing device and cellphone, work with wireless networks other than AT&T.;


Since Apple began selling the iPhone in June, some customers have complained that they want the freedom to choose their cellular carrier.

In August, a teenager in New Jersey gained notoriety for unlocking the iPhone and using it with T-Mobile. But his solution took many hours and involved a soldering iron.

Then in early September, iPhone hackers began to sell software that accomplished the same thing. Some unlocked iPhones sell online for $1,000.

Despite Apple’s warning, iPhone customers don’t have to accept any updated software from the company. Some hackers say they have ready software-based responses to any attempt by Apple to relock the modified phones.


At a news conference in London last week, Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs described the efforts to unlock the iPhone as a “constant cat and mouse game we play,” similar to the company’s effort to stop hackers from stripping copyright protection from the music it sold on iTunes.

Some Apple observers called the company’s warning over unlocked iPhones a soft enforcement approach that stopped short of more serious measures such as lawsuits.

“Apple is in a tricky spot,” said Columbia University law professor Tim Wu. “It’s in their interest for people to unlock iPhones. It makes the phone more useful. But if Apple is seen encouraging that activity, who would want to do an exclusive deal with them again?”

IPhone unlock kits are selling for $59 at, an online compendium of products and services for Apple business users. A site representative said his firm had sold several hundred iPhone unlocking licenses since Sept. 10.


It has warned customers that Apple will probably void their warranties if it detects that they used the software.

“The question is whether people care,” said the man, who would identify himself only as “Mac Thinker” because he said he was unsure whether selling the software was legal. “They want the phone.”

Jobs created a furor this month when he cut the price of the iPhone by $200 just two months after launching the product, angering people who had paid full price.

In response to the outcry, the company said it would give $100 in store credit to iPhone customers. Several days later, Apple reported that it had already sold 1 million iPhones and was on track to sell 10 million phones before the end of 2008.


Apple’s shares reached a new high Monday, gaining $4.13, or 2.9%, to $148.28. The shares were boosted by a Citi Investment Research report that predicted higher-than-expected sales of Macintosh computers and a surge in iPhone purchases.