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Irreparable damage… to software?

TUAW has a picture of the statement which Apple has posted at Genius Bars on how “many of the unauthorized iPhone unlocking programs cause irreparable damage to the iPhone software.”

No, wait, it’s software. It’s code. By definition, “damage” to software can be undone, which is why it’s “soft” rather than “hard”. You might end up with it having to be restored to its factory state, but that’s not “irreparable”, is it? And yes, even if it’s “firmware” it’s re-flashable. That’s why it’s “firm” – it’s held in hardware, but can be re-flashed.

Either Apple doesn’t know the difference between software and hardware, or its definition of “irreparable” simply means “we’re not going to do it for you, buster”, which isn’t exactly the dictionary definition. I can’t fix a broken window, but that doesn’t mean it’s “irreparable” and I should just sit here with a draft blowing through the house for the rest of time.

In fact, of course, Apple is just lying. It’s not irreparable. It voids your warranty, it makes you ineligible for any help from Apple, but it’s not irreparable. Apple is simply pointing out that you have been a bad person, and it will try and punish you for disobeying His Steveness.

Do you want to do business with a company which treats its customers like that?

Of course, this situation is inevitable. Apple is taking, by some estimates, as much as 40% of the revenue that the phone companies make from the iPhone. If it hits its target of selling 10 million iPhones by the end of 2008, at around $25 per customer per month (a conservative estimate), you’re talking about a $3 billion business per year, just from that revenue sharing. And, unlike actually making the things in the first place, that’s almost pure profit for Apple: the phone company absorbs all the costs of running the phone. All Apple has to do is have a few guys making “updates” which brick anyone’s phone if they’ve had the temerity to want to use it with a different network.

With that amount of profit on the table, letting you take your iPhone to another company isn’t an option, even then unlocking the iPhone is perfectly legal [PDF link]. It will be interesting to see how Apple deals with customers in countries like Holland, where you have a legal right to have your phone unlocked by your phone company after a specified period.

It’s strange that Apple thinks that it’s right that people want to own their music, but wrong that people want to own a device which they’ve paid $399 for.

As an aside, the exemption to the US DMCA which makes it legal to create or use a third-party unlock on a mobile phone runs out in 2009. What’s the betting that Apple will be lobbying very hard indeed to see that this extension isn’t renewed? And, now the precedent has been set that “hot phone” = “revenue share” for manufacturers, I bet they’re not the only one.

To make matters worse, Apple seems to be bricking phones with this update which have had no hacks applied to them at all. So the ones who seem to be causing “irreparable” damage aren’t the hackers, but Apple. Maybe Apple should hire some of the hackers. After all, they seem to know more about its software and hardware than it does.

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  • http://www.webomatica.com/wordpress/ Webomatica

    Does the iPhone come with an “install disc” that allows a user to restore the original software or are iPhone users completely reliant on Apple to do so?

  • reinharden

    I just wanted to weigh in with one comment.

    It’s not uncommon when dealing with embedded devices to cause “irreparable damage” to the system that truly can’t be resolved without opening up the device and, if necessary, soldering a debug interface to the board and reloading the firmware via a JTAG interface (or something similar).

    If one corrupts the bootloader, it’s off to JTAG land. If one corrupts the system and the bootlader can’t restore via iTunes, it’s off to JTAG land.

    Also, if one corrupts the flash file system and can’t boot into a recovery mode…well let’s just say that it’s challenging to reformat the flash appropriately. Often easier to toss the box in the corner and forget about it.

    You’ve probably noticed that iPhones don’t come with a JTAG connector. So if you do something that requires one to recover, from a consumer perspective, it’s truly bricked.

    In our embedded development efforts in the past, it wasn’t uncommon for us to “brick” a dozen to a score of our devices during the development process and we had every low-level tool imaginable. Without the low-level interfaces and tools, it’s quite possible (almost even probable) to render an embedded device effectively “irreparable”.

    Not to be an apologist…but this is one of the likely reasons that Apple doesn’t have an SDK for the iPhone. Third party apps on a consumer oriented embedded device is just asking for trouble.


    PS: And while I admit that I enjoyed playing with the third party toys on my iPhone, it also caused me to have to restore my image approximately every other day! Which was not fun. :-(

  • Phillip Shirk


    When you play with fire you often get burned.

    A measley few iphone owners are making a lot of unjustified noise over their own misdeeds.

    Live with it boys and girls.