Who Owns Your iPhone?

I have not yet used the iPhone my family gave me almost six weeks ago. I’ve been trying to unlock it and have been wary of most schemes that have been offered to me. I want to be able to run MY phone on whatever network I want to run it on. I will unlock it soon and then give it to my daughter to run on her T-Mobile account.

That said, the reports that Apple is "bricking" phones with their 1.1 update are outrageous to me. I realize that Apple has a business deal with AT&T and they make it very hard to unlock the phone as a result. But honestly they shouldn’t be destroying phones that have been "hacked". That’s obnoxious. Very few iPhone users are going to go to the expense and hassle of unlocking their phones. Apple should know enough to look the other way on that kind of activity and let it exist as a "gray market".

Saul Hansell has it right in his blog post. He says:

Since the iPhone is a very sleek, capable handheld computer, people are going to want to run programs on it. They are going to want to hack and see what they can build. It’s
a law of nature. And Apple might as well be fighting gravity.

More than that, Apple is destroying goodwill that they enjoy in the geek community. They’ve gone from being the cool company to being the evil company.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. Michael Bailey

    “They’ve gone from being the cool company to being the evil company.”That may be true, but they’ll get away with it. They’ve never really been good at playing with others, and their strong followers have always overlooked that fact.The same folks who talk about open source this-and-that have no problem being locked into iTunes, etc.

  2. Bruce Barber

    Fred,I have to disagree with you here.Apple has always insisted in having control over both the hardware AND software in it’s products (much to the chagrin of people who like to tinker) and the result has been that in most cases the hardware and software end up “playing nicely” with each other.When you add Apple’s willingness to listen to feedback and integrate it into future iterations (check out the latest update), you get products that combine great design, an elegant implementation of the latest technology, and a finite set of factors to deal with when the time comes for the inevitable call to tech support.With respect to this tradeoff, I, for one, am perfectly happy to forgo the additional functionality that hacks and 3rd party software provide.

  3. Matt Kummell

    I’m not really surprised that Apple’s doing this – they’re very focused on the user experience – as soon as you lose control of the environment/variables, the product experience can suffer.But I don’t condone what they’re doing.I honestly think it’d be interesting to classify how companies react to their customers hacking their products – it’s definitely a spectrum of reactions. From the “close everything down” that Apple seems to be doing through “Linux on Xbox” and the Lego Mindstorm community and out to the extreme of Bug Labs. It would be worth exploring the impact of a vibrant hacking community with alternate product use patterns on products…

  4. Hank Williams

    I agree with you fred but would take it one step further. Steve Jobs is a briliant product designer and business person. But I personally think he is evil. I say this as a fan of his work. But I would not want to meet Steve Jobs. I would not want to have dinner with him. He is on that fine line that separates genius from maniac. This is perfectly in keeping with all the wierd things apple does that all relate to an unnatural desire to contol at *all* costs. From going after bloggers with legal action, to trying to “brick” physical products legally purchased.Honestly, I am not even sure he is on legal ground here. When you buy the phone you do not sign a contract. In fact you only sign it if you accept the AT&T service. So how using a given application could void a warranty on a physical product is really beyond me. They may put such nonsense in some writing somewhere, but I bet it has about as much enforceability as those signs in NY garages that say “not responsible for your car even if we totally fuck it up while its in our care.”Bottom line I love Steve Jobs’ products. But he is not a good man and Apple as an extension *is* an evil company.

    1. vruz

      Steve Jobs has this little thing Pablo Picasso used to have.Oh so brilliant ! but… oh so human !(to the tune of “Pablo Picasso”, by David Bowie)

  5. John Peterson

    If you alter the firmware of your iPhone by hacking it and unlocking it Apple cannot guarantee that their firmware updates will not cause an error and brick your iPhone. If you alter the firmware on your computer / DVD-Burner, etc… The issue is the same. Why would your phone be any different? If you didn’t like this then you should not have bought an iPhone. It’s not like they kept this whole thing a secret from you. To buy the phone and whine about it being locked to AT&T is lame. Vote with your dollars.JOhn

  6. Jeremy Toeman

    I’m quite mixed on this topic. On one hand, Apple and AT&T very clearly communicated the “deal” about buying an iPhone. They set one expectation – this phone works on AT&T’s network. They never talked about expansion or opening up or unlocking. When Comcast gives me a set-top box they don’t promise it’ll work if I try to integrate a DirecTV receiver (which is clearly much much harder to do, but the point remains).In the cell phone world, the average consumer does NOT expect his/her phone to work on other networks or be hackable. Why do people think it should be different because it’s Apple? You certainly can’t hack an iPod to work with the Zune music store (is there one? does anyone even own a Zune?).All that said, I return to the position I took when I first heard about Apple doing a phone: they are entering a world fraught with complications that they are unfamiliar with. The phone market is extremely fast-moving and complex, and I do not believe that “the typical Apple way” will work long term in this industry. They are going to have to adapt and learn, and do so very quickly if they want to win in the long term.Alienating press, technology influencers, and early adopters is clearly not the best strategy. Then again, neither is creating a situation wherein a company as huge AT&T has an easy lawsuit…

    1. fred wilson

      Jeremy,it is my expectation that any GSM phone I buy will work on whatever GSM network i choose to use. i have not bought a “locked” phone in years.Fred

  7. Peter Steinberg

    All thoughtful comments above — I’ll add in another thought.Isn’t it possible that Apple didn’t do anything that purposefully disables the hacked phones? Rather, the update they made just happens to change the core code enough that the hacked phones no longer work? After all, if their goal was to disable hacked phones wouldn’t they have done something to brick ALL the hacked phones, not just some?And yes, they probably could have put some effort into making sure their efforts don’t brick any hacked phones, but really, that’s exactly why they like to control their products — who wants to have to keep track of the endless different hacks and the ways they need to be accommodated in future code? It’s time and money poorly spent.

  8. Bob Warfield

    Apple are control freaks and they have great taste in User Experience. This has been a good thing for a long while, but this incident (and other past unpleasantness) proves its only a Proxy for what people really want:http://smoothspan.wordpress…BW

  9. rick gregory

    *yawn*If you don’t like Apple, don’t buy their products. Don’t like the fact that the iPhone is locked to ATT? Don’t buy one. Want one, but are going to hack it so it works on another network? Fine… then take responsibility for that. But don’t expect Apple to test their updates with a hack – not only is it a dubious use of their time, it might well leave them open to contract issues with ATT if there’s a provision in the contract for Apple to ensure that the phone remains locked to ATT. Oh, and if you want a truly open phone, there’s http://openmoko.com/product…, a hacker’s delight.Look, I think Apple missed the boat by not making this an unlocked device – it might have sparked the realization that mobile computing devices can be cool and that people can and should pay for them vs getting some crappy phone for free. But that’s not what they did. It seems juvenile to deliberately hack the iPhone after Apple has made it known that updates would not be tested with such hacks and then to whine about the fact that your hacking bricked the phone.

    1. fred wilson

      ricki didn’t buy it but its stil my phone and i should be able to do what i want with it.fred

      1. rick gregory

        No, you shouldn’t. Well, you *should* but that’s NOT the deal going in. It’s NOT an open device and *no one said it was*. There was no deception on this point, no coverup.As I said above, I think this would be a far more revolutionary device had it been sold as hardware that anyone with a GSM carrier could use. But that’s simply not the case – it’s tied to ATT. Several of my friends have iPhones… I love the interface, love the device. But I have a T-Mobile account and I’m very happy with it. I have no desire to move to ATT… so I didn’t buy an iPhone and won’t until they’re supported.You’re trying to assert a right that was clearly stated not to exist, the right to use the phone on other networks and to have it supported by Apple updates. It’s not that I think Apple is smart to have done this… but I can’t see your point – you have a phone that’s clearly tied to one network, whose manufacturer has explicitly stated that they will not test hacks to their phone. Why are you surprised this doesn’t work?

        1. Hank Williams

          Actually you are half right. Apple has no responsibility to make the device work with T-Mobile. But it is *illegal* for apple to *permanently brick* your device through a later software “upgrade” as a punishment for making the device work with someone else’s network.As a buyer you did not agree to do or not do anything with your device. There is an awesome class action lawsuit against apple lurking somewhere in all of this. The law is all about intent. If it could be shown that they intended to punish people and the upgrade software had malicious intent then they are legally in a world of hurt.If they are doing this it will come out.Its one think to set it back to a pre-breakout state, Its another to permanently and purposely damage the device so that it cannot be recovered (bricked). It is amazing to me that no one is discussing the legal implications of this. This is like walking into the apple store and saying “hey I am using this device with T-Mobile.” Someone then comes from in back and smashes your device with a sledge hammer and says “so sorry we dont agree with your doing that”Again the key point is that when you buy an iphone you dont agree to anything. This is different than most contract based phone services where you actually do sign something when you get your phone. Contract law around these kind of over-the-counter purchases is really clear. There are certain implied warranties that exist whether apple disclaims them or not. Moreover, purposely bricking a computer is a tort. It is unrelated to warranty i.e. contract law. You just cant purposely screw with someone else’s stuff, which is what bricking is.If apple continues down this path, the class action lawyers are going to make a lot of money.

  10. Craig Plunkett

    I’ve disagreed with Fred on his earlier posts about the iPhone, but have to say that I am 100% in agreement here. It doesn’t make sense to alienate those customers that have hacked the phone. At the very least, they could make a softswitch to prevent updates, and just decline to support phones that have been hacked or not updated, and turn a blind eye to them. They can then see what great things come along from these hacks, and buy them to integrate into the official versions. But bricking hacked phones is just pissing coolness and goodwill down the toilet.

  11. Robert Seidman

    would you rather be hated by *some* in the geek community and loved by the masses, or the other way around?You’re like the ultimate free market capitalist — if stuff doesn’t do what you want, don’t buy it! When you can’t easily hack it to your tastes — oh well! While I agree with Saul that the phone will be hacked, I don’t really with the premise. Should software companies not care *at all* about software piracy simply because as long as there is popular software it will be pirated and fighting that is like fighting gravity?Destroying goodwill in the geek community? The world has changed then and since I’m not peeved at all, that might indicate I’m no longer a geek. While I would rejoice at this notion, I doubt that it’s true. Instead I think that perhaps there are two kinds of geeks: those who have some wacky sense of entitlement, and those who do not.I totally get that after three whole months of being in existence it doesn’t do what you want. What I don’t get is why that causes you any angst.

    1. fred wilson

      because locking phones to specific carriers limits choice, is consumer unfriendly, and is bad for innovation and competition and that makes me angry.

      1. Robert Seidman

        I agree. But I think it’s really more that the FCC doesn’t do anything to mandate open mobile telecom platforms that really limit innovation in choice. I can’t unlock my iPhone and use the carrier I want (Verizon). If Apple would have gone with Verizon, you wouldn’t have been able to unlcok it and use T-Mobile. That issue isn’t Apple’s fault.

  12. /t

    What Leonardo da Vinci would said if some Joe SixPack would start improving Mona Lisa painting.I think Apple feels the same.The spent years trying to perfect this product and they sell it as locked one.If you don’t like user agreement what is the point to buy it?

    1. fred wilson

      i didn’t buy it. i wouldn’t buy an iPhone. it was a gift.

      1. /t

        I know that you didn’t buy it. But the rest of the unlocking crowd did.Simple question:If tomorrow some virus would spread through unlocked phones who would people blame? Apple or unlockers.Welcome to the wonderfull world of open source.

  13. Greg Clayman

    I’m pretty sure Peter Steinberg is correct below.It’s possible that Apple is simply updating their firmware, and the various 3rd party app installers (including applications to unlock the phone) are not compatible with the new firmware. Thus their repositories don’t work, the software doesn’t work, and you’re back to square one. They’re not going to beta test their new firmware to make sure it’s backwards compatible with every hack out there. Just doesn’t make sense for them to.But give it a minute and the installer apps will catch up and everything will be back to the way it was. Hacked phones work just fine post 1.1.1, they just lose their hacks until new installers can be developed. And it’ll happen before the weekend is through.I agree with you Fred that it would have been really ballsy for Apple to release the phone w/out a carrier partner and to support all comers when it came to apps for the device, but they would have left a lot of money on the table doing so. A LOT of money.And I do think 90% of the folks with iPhones (95%?) don’t know the first thing about hacking the devices, unlocking them, etc. They just know that they have a pretty snazzy phone that’s a iPod as well and now has some cool new features it didn’t have before. Even if maybe they paid too much for it out of the gate.

  14. jackson

    Goodwill? We are talking about the same Apple, the giant corporation? Goodwill?

  15. Miss Sunrider

    Yeah, I agree! I went to go buy it one day and decided not to after finding out it only works with AT&T! They are ruining their image of cool to evil!Miss Sunrider