Latest iPhone update and Apple's response could spell trouble

For the second time in less than a month, Apple is angering the iPhone community. This time over the latest iPhone firmware update. As promised (maybe threatened is a better word), the update had the effect of disabling iPhone’s unlocked using either the free solutions created by the iPhone Dev Team or the commercial iPhoneSIMFree. In a number of cases the unlocked devices appear to be remaining inoperable even if a valid AT&T SIM card is inserted.

The story doesn’t stop there, however. The update also disables all other iPhone hacks, including so-called native applications, the ability to use ringtones created with third-party tools, and the ability to use the device as a portable drive. Unlike with previous updates, the encryption method used to lock down the iPhone appears to be much stronger, making jail-braking an iPhone and installing any non-Apple software impossible (for the moment at least).

Some users who had hacked, but not unlocked their iPhones are also reporting that their phones have become as inoperable as those who had unlocked the device. Even users who have made no modifications whatsoever have also reported that the update bricked their iPhones. Apple is standing firm in refusing to help anyone that appears to have modified their iPhones in any way (no word yet on how users who didn’t modify their phones are being treated).

The general consensus is that users who have in any way modified their iPhone should not update it. If you need to restore your iPhone using an earlier firmware version or if you have upgraded and need to downgrade, there is some information available from iPhone Atlason how to proceed. Gizmodo also has a report on getting an unlocked iPhone working after the update.

The results of this fiasco could be far-reaching. Apple’s hard-line approach isn’t likely to go down easy with users who seemed to be given the green light to modify (if not unlock) their iPhones by an Apple executive last month. The potential mis-quote of an Apple spokesperson that owners of bricked iPhones should “purchase a new iPhone” is also not going to calm anyone’s nerves.

If Apple doesn’t respond to the situation, it could lead to decreased sales, especially as other smartphone manufacturers develop ads pointing out Apple’s handling of the situation. Nokia has already begun an “Open to Anything” ad campaign in response to Apple’s actions.

Some iPhone users are calling for a class-action lawsuit. Such a lawsuit would target three different classes: those who have unlocked their iPhone (there is still some debate over the legality of doing this, though unlocking a mobile phone is one of the exemptions to the digital millennium copyright act), those who have modified the phone to act as a strorage devices, and those who have not modified their iPhone. Regardless of the results of the lawsuit, the bad publicity would ultimately have an impact on how Apple and the iPhone are perceived by the public.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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