Apple-sanctioned unlocked iPhones on the horizon

The first legitimately unlocked iPhones are set to arrive next month. French carrier Orange announced today that it will be selling unlocked iPhones as well as well as locked models when the iPhone is released in France next month. Apple officially acknowledged Orange (how funny does that sound?) as the French iPhone carrier yesterday in addition to confirming next Friday as the ship date for both Leopard and Leopard Server. This will make the first time that iPhones are available in an unlocked state from Apple. The decision to release an unlocked model is most likely to comply with French law stipulating that mobile phones cannot be sold that require a user to sign a contract (though users can apparently opt to sign an agreement to purchase a phone at a reduced price). Orange has yet to announce pricing for the unlocked iPhone. This presents an interesting situation. First, it proves unlocked iPhones are possible (not that there was any real doubt about that). It also proves that Apple is willing to produce them, though is probably hesitant to do so except where legally required as doing so reduces the company's bargaining ability and revenue sharing options with carriers. What will be interesting to watch is the potential implications. Will it be possible to buy unlocked French iPhones and activate them on non-French carriers (I can't see how Apple could prevent this)? If so, will a gray market develop for people buying these models and selling them elsewhere (again, it is hard to see a way to stop this - other than by limiting how many iPhones someone can buy at a time). Will this have any impact on the current state of lawsuits in the US about iPhone locking? It is legal in the US for customers to unlock a mobile phone and AT&T's typical policy for other phones is to offer unlock codes after 90 says of service. This could add some merit to the lawsuits (not being a lawyer, I can't really judge how much). Finally, will officially unlocked iPhones offer hackers an easier mechanism for developing unlocking tools that work with future iPhone updates? If there is a legitimately unlocked model, it might serve as a template for future unlocking efforts (possibly even ones that don't get bricked by future updates).

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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