Alastair’s Place

Software development, Cocoa, Objective-C, life. Stuff like that.

Christopher Breen and iPhone “bricking”

MacWorld’s Christopher Breen has written an article pondering whether Apple is now on the wrong track.

I have to say, I agree with many of the points he raises, though I think it’s unfair to blame Apple for the ringtones problem (which I’m fairly certain has been imposed on them by the record companies—the same companies, incidentally, who continue to claim that “ripping” your own CDs is illegal).

And as for the iPhone “bricking” thing, I’m sorry Christopher, but you’re plain wrong about the legalities of it. Sure, in the U.S. the Copyright Office has blocked people from trying to use DMCA to protect against phone unlocking. But that does not mean that you, as an iPhone user, are within your rights to do it. It just means that Apple and AT&T cannot use that particular piece of legislation to sue you. They can still write into your contract terms that you may not unlock your phone, and if they’ve done that then the only way around it would be for you to demonstrate that those terms were illegal somehow. You might conceivably try to bring an anti-trust case, but to be honest I’d expect it to be knocked down on the basis that you were free to buy any other smartphone. Without doing that, you’ve breached the terms of your contract.

I also don’t think that Apple should be forced to spend time ensuring that unsupportable hacks will function correctly with their software updates. Plainly they did do some testing, but when it went wrong, what did you expect them to do? Actively support something that they are almost certainly contractually obliged not to? All they could do is warn customers that it might break their phones.

And yes, they could have displayed a warning up front, but they would probably have had to display it to all iPhone users (consider: how do you tell if an iPhone has been hacked, when you don’t know about or have copies of all available hacks, or the time to analyse them?). Warning everyone would have needlessly frightened lots of customers, and that’s a bad thing to do.

As for whether there is a provision for “undoing the damage”, there is. If you pay Apple, they will provide you with another iPhone. Put another way, the cost of rectifying the damage is the same as the cost of a new iPhone, so buy a new iPhone.

This doesn’t even seem unreasonable. In general, to fix an arbitrary problem on a UNIX-based system (or a Windows-based system, for that matter), you need an expert. Experts cost hundreds of dollars an hour. Buying a new iPhone is cheaper.

On the flip-side, should Apple allow people to write iPhone apps? Yes, but only once they are certain that the iPhone can run third-party apps securely (e.g. by running them in a sandbox). Otherwise there’s a risk of iPhone viruses, and we don’t want those.