Apple says unlocking programs can damage iPhone

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Apple said on Monday that programs available on the Internet allowing the iPhone to be used with other service providers besides AT&T can irreparably damage the device.

Journalists test an Apple iPhone following its introduction in Berlin, September 19, 2007. Apple said on Monday that programs available on the Internet allowing the iPhone to be used with other service providers besides AT&T can irreparably damage the device. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Apple, which also makes Mac computers, iPod media players and runs the iTunes online music store, said that once an Apple-supplied software update is installed on the iPhone, it “will likely result in the modified iPhone becoming permanently inoperable”.

Since the iPhone’s introduction at the end of June, Apple has sold more than 1 million units, reaching that goal ahead of its original end-September target.

“We are not doing anything proactively to disable iPhones that have been hacked or unlocked,” Phil Schiller, Apple’s head of worldwide product marking told Reuters.

Asked how widespread the practice of downloading unlocking software, he replied, “We do not know.”

The Cupertino, California-based company also said an iPhone that fails to work because of the installation of the unlocking software is not covered under the warranty.

Apple plans to release the next iPhone software update later this week, the company said in a statement. In the United States, AT&T is the only authorized service provider.

“My suspicion is this is contractual obligation,” said Van Baker, an analyst with market research firm Gartner. “There is probably wording in their contracts to the effect that they have to make best efforts to remedy software changes that unlock the phone or make it available to other networks.”

Several hacking efforts declared success last month in finding ways to “unlock” the iPhone, meaning it will work on other networks.

Such programs require some technical know-how in order to modify the device’s software and were expected to appeal to a small number of users who wanted to avoid signing a required two-year contract with AT&T or wanted to use the phone outside of the United States.

“Unlocking has gained a little bit of momentum, but is still predominantly among the ranks of the hackers and is mostly about bragging rights,” Baker said.

The announcement appeared to be met mostly with shrugs from users, some of whom voiced doubts that Apple’s software change would render the phone completely useless, and others saying the unlocking risks were clear from the start.

“Apple may have realized that a lot have unlocked and wanted to avoid dealing with them in droves -- most of them will get this info and not apply the update until a hack that solves it comes out,” a user called “bluedevil97” wrote on Apple news site

Schiller said that at least two unlocking programs, iUnlock and Anysim, can cause the iPhone to stop working once the software is updated.

Apple sharply cut the price of the iPhone earlier this month, but Schiller declined to comment on the company’s financial performance so far in the quarter or its expectations for sales in the holiday sales period at the end of the year.

In the past few days, Apple and telecommunications service providers in Europe have announced deals to provide service for the iPhone.

Shares of Apple rose $4.13, or 2.9 percent, to close at $148.28 on Monday. The rise came after Citigroup raised its share-price target for the company. In extended trade, the stock eased by 78 cents, or half a percent. So far this year, the stock is up about 73 percent.

Additional reporting by Scott Hillis