Newsletter #409 Preview: Reality Check: Is Apple At War With iPhone Hackers?

September 30th, 2007

One of the big stories this weekend, other than the usual political shenanigans and lurid celebrity gossip, was the claim that some iPhones were turned into bricks by the latest firmware update from Apple. Of course, Apple warned iPhone users about the potential consequences of unlocking their phones, which is intended to allow them to work on other phone systems.

In the wake of that update, some of those unlocked iPhones were predictably rendered all or mostly inoperable. Yet, it also appears a few phones that were never hacked also suffered in a similar fashion from the firmware revision. Without knowing what may have happened, on rare occasions, firmware updates do fail, but one would hope Apple will remedy such matters forthwith.

The core question, however, is whether Apple has the right to treat folks who choose to make unsanctioned upgrades to their iPhones in this fashion. Are they playing dirty tricks, or simply acting appropriately?

Consider another example in a different industry.

You buy a spanking new $75,000 BMW and, when you get home, you perform various modifications to the engine to improve breathing and give more power and fuel economy. Unfortunately, your hardware alterations eventually result in serious engine damage.

Does BMW have the obligation to repair that engine under warranty?

Story continued in this week’s Tech Night Owl Newsletter.

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6 Responses to “Newsletter #409 Preview: Reality Check: Is Apple At War With iPhone Hackers?”

  1. starman says:

    but if your modifications do NOT cause engine failure and at a later date your power window stops working does the dealer have the right to refuse to fix your window because you modified your engine?

  2. Hammer of truth says:

    It’s is an interesting dillema. One the one hand you compare unauthorized unlocking and applications that are not from Apple to modifying a BMW engine and causing serious engine damage. That’s a stretch, but I see the point you make. One the one hand Apple is concerned about their lost revenue from illegally unlocked phones and having to support phones that have apps on them that don’t belong there. On the other hand, you have people who like the iPhone, but don’t like it that some apps are missing, and don’t want to write a web app to try to replace it, so they hack it and get it to run their apps. What does Apple do? Do they take it in the shorts and support every iPhone, no matter if they loose money? Do they shut out everybody who modded their iPhone and make them buy new ones?

    I see Apple coming out with new firmware that will reset the bricked phones to factory default, and then possibly opening up the iphone interface for some $$. There is no way they will be able to keep it locked up forever.

  3. but if your modifications do NOT cause engine failure and at a later date your power window stops working does the dealer have the right to refuse to fix your window because you modified your engine?

    You’d have to check the new product warranty, but in the real world, it would never enter into the picture. More than likely, it would only come to the fore if there was engine damage. Otherwise, if the dealer discovered something, he might be nice and advise the customer of the risk, and then leave it alone.

    With a device like the iPhone, I suspect the worst Apple did was block unlocking, because that does present them with a problem — possibly legal — in relation to their contract with AT&T. As to the other side-effect, rendering other hacks, such as custom software installations, incompatible, well that’ll probably be fixed ultimately by the third parties. Those things happen so fast, it may be accomplished by the time this posts.


  4. Tedious says:

    It’s my understanding that Apple fixed a buffer overrun. This BUG was required for the hacks to run. This is the same bug that made headlines declaring that hackers were going to steal all your info. So Apple plugged the hole.

    Their actions made the iPhone safer for the 98% of users that DID NOT hack their phone. The vocal 2% and their accusations of malice makes better headlines, however.

  5. Dana Sutton says:

    I agree with Gene. There may be some clause in Apple’s contractual arrangement with AT&T that Apple will take due diligence in preserving AT&T’s exclusive franchise as the iPhone service provider, so that Apple may have felt it was legally obliged to take active steps to discourage unlocking. But Apple is coming under terrific pressure about this policy, both from competitors who are gleefully taking advantage of this move in their advertising and in the form of possible litigation. See Most class action lawsuits are trivial nuisances, one based on the fact that purchasers had no prior warning that adding third-party software and then upgrading firmware would brick their phones may have genuine merit. For these reasons and also because some competing products have features the iPhone doesn’t, that could be supplied by third-party software (IM, GPS, etc.),, I suspect Apple will conclude its current policy about third-party software is bad for business and relent.

  6. Sam Elowitch says:

    I certainly can see how Apple isn’t contractually or legally obligated to fix hacked iPhones, but it would be a really nice thing to do. It would also be nice if it were possible to, with a series of steps, to revert the iPhone to its out-of-the-box condition.

    But all of this would have been moot had Apple not tried to force developers to do everything for iPhone inside Safari instead of opening up the guts of the OS for people to make “real” apps.

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