Tinkering with iPhone software voids Apple warranty

APPLE A DAY

Plugged In

September 27, 2007|By DAVID ZEILER

You mess with your iPhone, you void your warranty.

That's the blunt message Apple sent to the iPhone hacking community in a statement. Many had wondered when or if Apple would retaliate against the widespread unlocking schemes and other iPhone hacks that have emerged over the past two months on the Internet.

Here's what Apple had to say:

"Apple has discovered that many of the unauthorized iPhone unlocking programs available on the Internet cause irreparable damage to the iPhone's software, which will likely result in the modified iPhone becoming permanently inoperable when a future Apple-supplied iPhone software update is installed. ... Users who make unauthorized modifications to the software on their iPhone violate their iPhone software license agreement and void their warranty."

While I think Apple is stretching it by describing software damage as "irreparable" -- it's rare that you can't simply reinstall software on an otherwise undamaged piece of hardware -- I believe the company when it says the imminent software update is incompatible with many of the hacks. And Apple in no way wants to be in the business of ensuring that every screwball hack will work on the iPhone as it continues to update and enhance both the hardware and the software.

Some folks on Apple's iPhone support forum questioned Apple's motives, wondering if AT&T was pressuring Apple to crack down on the unlocking software. Every time someone unlocks an iPhone, AT&T loses a customer as well as the revenue from that customer. Nevertheless, I don't think Apple needed a push from AT&T. It has plenty of its own reasons for playing hardball with the hackers.

Apple has an almost psychotic need to control every aspect of its products. While it can't prevent people from making unauthorized changes, it doesn't have to support them. It never has and never will. This policy applies to everything the company makes. For example, among the many things my MacBook warranty does not cover is "a product or part that has been modified to significantly alter functionality or capability without the written permission of Apple."

I understand that people want functionality that Apple has not provided. That's why the hacks have proven so popular. History tells us that eventually Apple will implement some of the hacks into future versions of the iPhone. But in the meantime Apple needed to do something to show it wasn't tacitly condoning the hacks by inaction.

Apple also wanted to fire a preemptive strike against a PR disaster in which an iPhone software update -- such as the one due out this week -- would "brick" thousands of hacked iPhones. Having just soothed the fury over the unexpectedly rapid $200 price drop, Apple would prefer not to have its retail stores filled with crowds of even angrier iPhone owners waving (or hurling) their useless devices at the heads of hapless Mac Geniuses.

Some may object to Apple's policy, but the company has little choice. Hacks are risky. That's why they're called "hacks." Apple refuses to share that risk with anyone who chooses to hack his iPhone. Makes sense to me.

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