Rotten Apples

After the Release of the Much Anticipated iPhone,Steve Jobs Tries to Stay One Step Ahead of Hackers

While Apple is busy introducing its new touch-screen-video iPod, in Vienna, the “iPod Touch,” some students are already making phone-calls on the yet-to-be released iPhone. All the local reporting on the iPhone had suggested that a two-year contract with AT&T (in America) in order to buy the $399 phone and that it would not work with other operators.

That is, until a Sept. 22 article in the Austrian daily Der Standard reported that two Austrian IT workers have been able to hack the iPhone, disabling the SIM-card lock and enabling all non-phone features within the first few days of the phone’s release.

The unlocked iPhone, this one using the Vodafone service | Photo: John Ballinger

Then they published their secret: Now, a simple tutorial at http://iphone.unlock.no gives instructions about how, in four easy steps, the iPhone can be unlocked, no disassembly needed. In addition, they have added a function that will reset the firmware restoring all guarantee claims. Requesting anonymity for professional reasons, Marian M. and Michael B. explained their motives:

“If you have to buy the phone for the full price, you should be able to choose which contract you use it under,” the two hackers told the WebStandard. Self- described Apple “fanatics,” they see it as a protest against Apple’s strict product policy.

Observers reported being surprised with the speed with which the hackers had been able to break the “lock.” Within a week, the code had been written and the page uploaded. Applying their code not only unlocks the phone but also allows access to its programmability, something Apple had hoped to restrict. Initially, only Apple could update and install software on the phone; the hacked code now allows any user to play a game of chess or install the newest word processing software. Marian M. and Michael B. plan to upload a German version with even easier instructions within the next couple of weeks.

Ever since it’s initial introduction in San Francisco in January, the iPhone was expected to sell badly due to its high purchase price. It was introduced commercially on June 29th, and the first non-AT&T activation steps were revealed two days later.  It wasn’t until September 12th that the first software tools for unlocking became available free on the Internet.

Several other methods of unlocking have been found, although all involved taking apart the phone or installing a reprogrammed SIM-card. For the first month, early adopters were able to use the device’s built-in WiFi capability, send and receive emails and photos, check stocks, watch movies, synchronize important dates, surf the internet in full resolution, check Google-maps, listen to music and install a variety of unsupported applications.

The first unlocking programs surfaced after a 16-year old, named George Hotz (aka Geohot) figured out how to take the phone apart and poke two connected needles into the circuitry, thus sending a command to the phone’s baseband.  On Aug. 21, Geohot published a video on YouTube demonstrating his unlocked iPhone:

“Hi Everyone, I’m Geohot, and this is the world’s first unlocked iPhone,” he stated triumphantly in his first public appearance.  About twenty days later, anybody with intermediate computer skills could trick the phone into activation and install one of the several free unlocking applications.

The iPhone costs approximately 320 Euros, including New York City sales-tax, minus shipping and domestic taxes. Although Apple has promised AT&T to fight the unlocking, Apple has yet to release an optional software-update for the iPhone which may prevent future unlocking. Hackers are hard at work on relocking tools to prevent updated iPhones from being “bricked.”

Hackers are confident that they will continue to break through Apple’s efforts. In an anonymous chat back in July an Apple employee told The Vienna Review that he sympathised with the saboteurs.
“I hope they hack it!” he said. “We’ll sell more iPhones.”

However, Apple has promised AT&T exclusive rights to all iPhones in the United States and claims it will make a good faith effort to prevent further unlocking.

In the last week of September, Apple CEO Steven Jobs reacted to the new findings for the first time. In a press conference in London, he said that Apple will continually try to be one step ahead of the hackers by releasing updates and new software. So far, the phone is not available for purchase on its own. Unless acquired illegally, it still comes with a binding 24 month contract with a standing charge of approximately €24 a month, depending on the tariff.

On Sept. 19, the company announced the price for Europe at  €399 with a two-year binding contract, as in America. With one million sold in the US, it remains in question whether that benchmark can be met in Europe as well.

While plans for release in Austria have not been announced, it has already been widely reported that T-Mobile will be the first to offer the iPhone here, most probably in time for the holidays. The new phones will be released with Apple’s 1.1.1 software, which will apparently put an end to unlocking. However it is still possible to buy phones with 1.0.2 firmware at any Apple Store or AT&T dealer in the US. This is likely to meet with aggressive resistance, based on evidence of bloggers of internet portals such as www.techportal.at, who suggest that this policy is a mistake.

As a final blow to hackers, should you update your unlocked iPhone with the 1.1.1 software, Apple has programmed the product to “self-destruct,” putting an end to all functions. So much for customer service.

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