Why Apple will gladly relock your iPhone

I presume everybody and their godmother have already read Mark Pilgrim’s “If wishes were iPhones, then beggars would call”:http://diveintomark.org/archives/2007/10/04/if-wishes-were-iphones. If you haven’t, read it. I happen to entirely agree with Mark on this: Buy it for what it is, or don’t buy it at all, but that’s not my point. Somewhere in the comments, “rdas7”:http://ze.ro-one.com/blog/ “asks:”:http://diveintomark.org/archives/2007/10/04/if-wishes-were-iphones?retitled#comment-10270
bq. I can’t fathom why they would partner with particular carriers: an iPhone open to any network would surely just cream the market. But they have, for whatever market reasons.
There is a simple answer to this, Apple has a “revenue sharing deal”:http://news.worldofapple.com/archives/2007/07/19/looking-at-apples-revenue-sharing-agreement-with-att/ with AT&T. The estimates on the value of the deal “vary greatly”:http://www.macnn.com/articles/07/07/24/iphone.revenue.split.deal/ (and noone can know for sure), the result of this is fairly clear: Apple would not be able to get the same deal if they didn’t give any carrier exclusivity. I even doubt they would be getting such a deal at all, if they didn’t opt for allowing companies to monopolize the iPhone.
Incidentally, this also goes a long way to explain Apple’s attitude towards hacking, upgrades and iBricking: They are not getting the revenue which they actually want from you, if you never register with a particular carrier, and so they will gladly relock your phone on upgrade (but, somehow, I doubt they’ll iBrick it intentionally). While the OS on the phone is relatively hackable, with every application running as root, the business model around the iPhone doesn’t allow for the hacking
Further, there is a final part to their nuke-everything-on-update strategy, that includes relocking, and nuking proprietary applications: iTunes and ringtones. Apple are doing their very best to “milk the market for ringtones”:http://daringfireball.net/2007/09/weird_rude_buggy. While, as John Gruber points out, you can get around it:
bq. Just use the trick where you make a copy of an AAC audio file and change its extension to “.m4r”, open it in iTunes, then change the file extension back to “.m4a” and sync your iPhone. Or, far easier, just use Rogue Amoeba’s new freeware “MakeiPhoneRingtone utility”:http://www.rogueamoeba.com/utm/posts/Article/MakeiPhoneRingtone-2007-09-11-09-00, which automates the above steps.
Here’s the catch: They also want to reserve the right to take away that ability, and ensure that they have a steady iTunes revenue stream for “selling” the same song more than once, in a multi-billion-dollar market where Apple has had no entry in the past.
So, if you want to, feel free to buy the iPhone, but don’t expect it to be, or remain hackable, and don’t buy it, expecting your iPhone to remain anything other than a fatter iPod Touch or iBrick, should you decide that the carrier you sold your soul to, buying this piece of hardware, isn’t right for you.
(Edit: It was pointed out, privately, to me, that the last paragraph may be somewhat difficult to parse, so allow me to reformulate: If you buy an iPhone, you have to be aware that your device is likely locked in to one contract with one provider only, and you should not expect that you can carry the device over to a new provider. Also be aware that Apple will likely go to great lengths to prevent you from using the phone in any other way than Apple intended you to use it, especially if your use it in a way that conflicts with their business model.)
As an aside, Apple’s locking scheme seems to be a permanent locking scheme, something I have reason to believe would be considered illegal bundling in for instance Norway. I’ll see if I can dig up some references for this.

2 Comments

  1. Louis Wheeler

     /  2007-10-09

    There is another point that you are missing: AT&T spent many hundreds of million of dollars to upgrade its mobile EDGE network to 2.75G. That has to be paid for by iPhone buyers.
    Next year, AT&T has to upgrade again to HSDPA 3G service before a 3G iPhone can be sold. AT&T is not going to spend three quarters of a billion dollars to do this unless they can be repaid by AT&T customers. Hence, the lock.
    Also, Apple intends to give out free updates periodically. Those must be paid for in your service contract. Many of those upgrades will be more than just bug fixes like iPhone 1.1.1 was. The latest update fixed a vulnerability that caused a buffer overload and allowed a hack. I hope you understand how important it is to keep malware and virus’ off the iPhone? The same techniques that allows you to unlock your iPhone from AT&T can insert a Trojan horse. Then down comes an email and your iPhone is hosed.

  2. Without being 100% sure, I think you are right on this (at least in Norway)
    As an aside, Apple’s locking scheme seems to be a permanent locking scheme, something I have reason to believe would be considered illegal bundling in for instance Norway. I’ll see if I can dig up some references for this.
    I think they had to change it to 12months a couple of years ago.
    – ØØ –