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Not Quite That Simple

John Gruber writes about iPhone users who have unlocked their iPhones and feel "screwed" because they have a sense of entitlement.

John takes steps to illustrate the differences between a hardware modification and a software modification. His example of a software modification is replacing a kernel extension with another older version.

John then claims that if you do so, as with hacking the iPhone, you're on your own. "It's that simple," he says.

But it isn't that simple. Well, that or John's analogy kind of stinks.

If you goof up your Mac by deleting /var or replacing a kext or letting a virus delete important files, Apple still supports you. The support may only be of the "erase your hard drive and reinstall Mac OS X" variety, but that's still support.

That baseline level of support is all a lot of iPhone users are looking for: a process by which they can wipe their iPhone and reinstall the baseline OS to a pristine, virginal state.

From My Angle
I've got an iPhone. I was going to use it solely to test out some little apps on Safari, since that's the only "official" "API" ((Yes, "API" belongs in quotes here. HTML and JavaScript aren't an API.)), but then the unlocks became available. I waited, it seemed to work, and I unlocked even though Cellular One (my provider) is going to BE AT&T within three months.

If, when AT&T finished their acquisition of Cellular One, I could restore my iPhone to a pristine condition, I'd do so. Instead, I find myself in a small no-man's land. Unless the "unlock" can be reversed, allowing me to upgrade to 1.1.1 or 1.2.7 or whatever, I'll likely stick with my month-to-month contract and 1.0.2. Apple won't get any monthly revenue from me. They won't get mobile iTunes Store sales from me. Starbucks won't get their icon on my screen.

Back on Topic
If I had deleted a kext on my computer, Apple doesn't just flat out abandon me. They provide a method for me to, on unmodified hardware, restore my system to a virgin state. That's one of the perks of messing with software - by definition it's "softer" than hardware. It's just bits, and you can change bits.

I agree with John: a computer can't "undo" a processor swap.

Apple "can" - and does - "undo" the "hacks" people make to their software. They do it all the time. They're just not in this case. If I mess up Pages or iPhoto, I can reinstall.

Has Apple ever made that decision before? No, I don't think they have.

So, while I fully support Apple's decision not to allow a restore, I can still understand the people who assumed they'd be able to "restore" their iPhone to virginal states. After all, it's just software, and they've restored software before.

4 Responses to "Not Quite That Simple"

  1. A MacBook and an iPhone are inherently different. You can't compare them because one is a personal computer designed to be toyed with, and the other is a consumer electronics device that is designed as a black box. So, I am not with you there. You are explicitly supported for screwing up your OS install because they give you the right to do just that. On the iPhone, you aren't given that right. You are told not to peek inside, and if you do, you do so at your own risk.

    That being said, I am a bit skeptical of Apple's claims that the iPhone unlocks cause irreparable harm. But, I certainly don't feel bad for those that applied the unlocks, given that they were doing something to their device that was clearly not part of what it was intended for. It would be very nice of Apple to find a way to refresh iPhones back to factory goodness, but they certainly aren't obligated to help people who violate their warranty.

  2. I can understand how the update can cause problems (presumably when they flash the baseband they need to know the IMEI, and if it can't be sure that the flash in place is right, how can they be sure they're getting the IMEI when they ask it for it?).

    I don't feel a sense of entitlement (I knew when I got my US iPhone, SIM unlocked it to run on O2 rather than buying a UK iPhone). I'm not annoyed that the update caused "bricking".

    Do I think Apple are wrong for voiding warrantees? Yes. Could they have an app available only to geniuses that would say "enter the IMEI on the back of the device", and then reflash the baseband? I'm quite sure they could.

    Do they need to support phones that are an unknown state? Of course not. Do they need to have a way of taking them back to a known state, and then support them? Yes.

  3. [quote comment="43683"]A MacBook and an iPhone are inherently different.[/quote]

    Ah, but I wasn't just making the example up myself; I was showing how weak John's example is. Apple does provide support when you use an old kext.

  4. A much better comparison would be modifying the firmware of a Mac rather than modifying a KEXT. Though even then, Apple provides a method of restoring the firmware.