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An iPhone unlock moves a step closer

So the process comes full circle: iPhone jailbreak interface INdependence has been updated to 1.2.2. This means that once again, it’s simply a question of running a simple application to open up your phone to third party applications. INdependence isn’t an iPhone unlock, but it’s clear that, where a jailbreak program goes, an iPhone unlocking application will follow.

How long before Apple stops the jailbreak, and any further iPhone unlocking program? The answer is probably weeks, rather than months. Apple have made it clear that it wants to keep making iPhone unlocking software useless as quickly as possible. That means keeping the guts of the iPhone locked away from prying hacker eyes.

Does this remind you of anything? To me, it seems like Apple is heading down the same path as Microsoft has long-attempted with its DRM, waging an attritional war against a group of coders who, to put it bluntly, will never give up. This war will cost Apple millions of dollars, and – it’s worth stating – can never be won. There is no technological lock which Apple can invent which others cannot circumvent. And, unlike the DRM cracks which Microsoft faces, this is all perfectly legal.

Apple isn’t stupid. Steve Jobs himself summed up the impossibility of keeping a system like this closed in his “Thoughts on music” letter:

“To achieve this, a DRM system employs secrets. There is no theory of protecting content other than keeping secrets. In other words, even if one uses the most sophisticated cryptographic locks to protect the actual music, one must still “hide” the keys which unlock the music on the user’s computer or portable music player. No one has ever implemented a DRM system that does not depend on such secrets for its operation.

The problem, of course, is that there are many smart people in the world, some with a lot of time on their hands, who love to discover such secrets and publish a way for everyone to get free (and stolen) music. They are often successful in doing just that, so any company trying to protect content using a DRM must frequently update it with new and harder to discover secrets. It is a cat-and-mouse game.”

It is, as Jobs says, a cat and mouse game. And, like every cat and mouse game, there is never truly a winner.

So why is Apple doing this? In short, because it has to. The majority of its revenue from the iPhone, and virtually all its profits, comes from keeping its customers paying cash to “approved” phone networks, which then pass on a large proportion of that money to Apple. If my calculations are even close, this is a business in which Apple stands to gain billions of dollars of profit, and a continuous, non-seasonal revenue stream which endless rolls in, month after month.

Set against such money, spending even $100 million a year on a ceaseless war against the iPhone hackers is actually chump change.

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