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From iPhone to iBrick?

Since Apple released the iPhone 1.1.1 update last Thursday, some adventurous iPhone users have been treating it with the suspicion usually only seen in gun-shy Windows users contemplating one of Microsoft's more far-reaching Service Pack updates.

That's because iPhone 1.1.1--in addition to providing security fixes and such useful new features as support for the WiFi iTunes Store--also nukes any third-party programs you've installed on an iPhone. And if you've used any of the various hacks available to unlock an iPhone for use with wireless carriers besides AT&T, the 1.1.1 update can nuke the iPhone itself, "bricking" it into an inert, unusable lump of metal and plastic.

That possibility is stressed in the intimidating "Important Information" screen iTunes presents at the start of the update:


Sure enough, one reader wrote to say that the iPhone he'd modified with third-party software "crashed and could not be recovered" after he installed the 1.1.1 update. (The iPhone I reviewed, which had also been hacked to run additional programs, survived the update fine.) That reader did note that Apple warns against putting third-party applications on iPhones, saying "I learned my lesson here." But he still wasn't happy about the outcome.

The 1.1.1 update also blocks a program, Ambrosia Software's iToner, that merely lets you make ringtones from music you already own and add them to an iPhone--instead of paying 99 cents each for them at the iTunes Store. Ambrosia President Andrew Welch--one of the most prolific Mac developers around, as well as one of the smartest observers of the Apple ecosystem--complained about Apple's conduct in an interview:

We're not putting anything but data on the iPhone, and we're doing it in the right way, and we're putting it in the user area of the iPhone. Apple is intentionally making sure that products like ours don't work.

Apple's defenders say that the iPhone is clearly marketed as a closed platform. If you don't like that, you can buy any other phone. If you insist on tinkering with an iPhone, you have to be prepared to own the consequences of your actions. Further, Apple can't be expected to test its own updates against every random hack out there, not least those that tinker with the deepest guts of the iPhone to let it use other wireless carriers' SIM cards.

True enough. But business isn't a matter of balancing rights and obligations as if you're in court. If the best thing a customer can say about a company is "they were within their rights to do this with me," you don't have a healthy relationship. This isn't Niccolo Machiavelli's politics; in a market populated by customers who can shop around, it is better to be loved than feared.

And the problems with the 1.1.1 update go beyond unfortunate, unavoidable interactions with unauthorized hacks. How else can you explain Apple going out of its way to break a program that just adds ringtones to an iPhone? That is classic cell-phone-industry control freakery. I might expect that from Verizon, but not from the "think different" company.

Apple works against its own long-term interest with this kind of conduct.

In the short term, it encourages users (such as Macworld columnist Rob Griffiths and my colleague Mike Musgrove) to opt out of its updates--which leaves them without important security updates and leaves Apple without the opportunity to sell them more songs through the WiFi iTunes Store.

In the long term, Apple is wasting its employees' time fighting an unwinnable battle. Apple's attempts to lock out third-party developers have about the same odds of success as the movie industry's campaign against DVD-unlocking software. Wouldn't Apple rather keep its programmers occupied with features and tools that customers actually want?

The iPhone's closed nature concerned me when I first reviewed it, and it bothers me even more now. This device is a breakthrough in many ways, but in others it's starting to look no better than any other cell phone. Apple should do better than this.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  October 5, 2007; 3:00 PM ET
Categories:  Gadgets  
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You don't mention the possibility that Apple may have no choice in fighting the "opening" of the iPhone. I have heard, perhaps on Scott Bourne's "iPhone Show" podcast, that AT&T would not have signed on to support the iPhone without the proviso that Apple do everything they can to keep users from jumping ship. The lesser "crime" of not going through the Apple/AT&T stores for add-ons such as ringtones, games and the like, may also be contractual. I would be interested in hearing if you know any more about these possibilities.

Posted by: Patrick McClure | October 5, 2007 4:14 PM | Report abuse

I bought my non subsidized iPhone and I'm paying a 2 year contract to AT&T, but I still want my iPhone UNLOCKED.

I also want to be able to run native apps that do not depend of an internet connection.

Am I thinking different, or is it just me ???

Posted by: Juan Casanova | October 5, 2007 4:16 PM | Report abuse

Apple bad. Hackers good. It's just not that simple and no forced anyone to buy the iPhone. I specifically have held off buying one until Apple comes out with the next generation ... if they last in this space!

Posted by: Robert Murray | October 5, 2007 4:33 PM | Report abuse

stop complaining. you deserved it. Most people never hack their cell phones and don't get in trouble. In the long term Apple only wins.

Posted by: Tixon | October 5, 2007 4:38 PM | Report abuse

Does "think different" just mean taking an extra 20 years to act like Microsoft?

Posted by: Allen | October 5, 2007 4:43 PM | Report abuse

I believe that this closed approach to iPhone software has more to do with Apple's agreement with AT&T than anything else. When hacks started coming out to untether the iPhone from AT&T service, Steve Jobs initial response was somewhat laissez-faire, as I recall. AT&T probably put some pressure on them.

Posted by: Chris | October 5, 2007 4:44 PM | Report abuse

I am writing this after 3 long days of continuously dealing with my bricked iphone that has a legitimate AT&T account I have not been able to use. The phone was never modified in anyways but still ended up unusable after the 1.1.1 update. I called apple customer care Saturday in the early morning after I notice that the iphone was not recieving an AT&T signal after downloading some songs via itunes, which was strange. I had all other functions of the phone available such as wifi, safari, ipod, email, etc... I searched the net and had noted that many people were having problems after updating their iphones , even phones that had no third party software installed were experiencing problems thus my apprehension to update. SO instead I called apple care for help.The associate insisted that I update even after telling her that there were reports that the update was no good. I stayed on the phone for 2 hours waiting for the download and further troubleshooting.My assumptions were correct on the update being bad for my iphone because it completely locked me out. The apple care professional than directed me to the product device department and the
associate there was helpful but a bit perturbed that my call was routed to him, he told me to go to an apple store to have the phone tested after talking with him and being placed on hold and talking to him some more for another hour. I had to go to work so i could not have made the trek to the apple store that was 45 minutes away.
Day 2 I had to go into work early and would not have made it to the apple store in time so i asked my sister to take the iphone, she called me back on her verizon cell phone to say that they were treating her like a criminal like she did something bad bringing the iphone in for me. I asked to talk to the "genius" that was helping her and told him i wanted documentation on why the phone was not being serviced he said yes but did not give my sister anything but his card and the card of the manager and a phone number to call which by the way says there is are technicians available for the iphone and to call at normal business hours 18007672775 and kept referring me to the iphone website.Now i was totally feeling like i was being blown off after calling that humber. I called the number during my break and even tried the 1800aplcare number and still nothing. I had to go back to work and just deal with trying to get the phone running the next day during my break and after work.

Day 3 i called 18007672775 at 11am and still the same message "there is no technicians available for the iphone please call back during regular business hours" than i tried apple care number where i was
directed once again to product device department where an associate said she would call back and never did by the time i got out of work at 3pm. So after work i call them again and speak to another associate who basically tells me apple can do nothing with its product that is still under warranty because it assumes me a criminal because my phone did not take the update well. Even after telling him i have not modified it and have a valid AT&T account apple will not even look at the phone yet agrees that there is a possibilty the update is bricking legtimate iphones. He refers me back to AT&T for a new sim card which of course does not work because its the phone thats broken not the AT&T network. So here i am paying for a line i cant use with a phone that the manufacture broke and no one in sight to help me...WOW talk about a hit and run...i am still reeling from it at the end of the third day still trying to figure it out for the rest of the days to come

Days that followed ...with no help from Apple or AT&T I am now looking for alternative ways to get my phone working because i have no choice for my $400 bad investment. I have canceled my account with AT&T and ported the other number i had with them to Verizon, closed up my Apple credit card account, returned the Apple ipod classic i bought previous to my iphone bricking and canceled my order for my first mac vowing to never buy another Apple or AT&T product again. My family and I also are telling our friends and family about my "think different" experience with Apple and
encouraging them not to buy an Apple branded item and to spread the word.

Posted by: first and last apple product | October 5, 2007 4:47 PM | Report abuse

Apple has *always* acted like Microsoft. Some koolaid is tastier than others.

Posted by: Mike | October 5, 2007 5:14 PM | Report abuse

The excuse of "AT&T made them do it" does not fly. AT&T just released a brand new phone which allows applications and ringtones not sold through them. And if keeping 3rd party apps out, and phones locked were part of the contract, why didn't Apple issue a press release at time of releasing the phone? Why didn't they say "We will never allow it"? Why, instead, did they wait until AFTER people had modified their phones, and THEN tell them their warranty was void? It's not like they didn't know phones were being modded. It was in the NY Times and Mac World.

Punishing users after the fact, and cancelling their warranty is deplorable.

I applaud the user who cancelled his ATT contract and returned all his Apple products. Maybe losing their customers' goodwill will teach them a lesson.

Posted by: sunny | October 5, 2007 10:10 PM | Report abuse

to: Posted by: first and last apple product

Been using Mac products for over 20 years, not one problem yet, and yes I have an iPhone, my dad has an iPhone as well as my mom, not one problem with it at all.

I call user error. To bad you'll be in windows hell now, good luck with that.

Posted by: MrWhite | October 5, 2007 11:41 PM | Report abuse

Hate to spoil the FUD party. Conspiracy theories are fun but real life is better. Good luck hacking the new "iphone killer" of the month. Can you handle the truth, if you want it, here it is.

Posted by: bunny | October 6, 2007 12:06 AM | Report abuse

To the people defending Apple... do you do this because you think ultimately Apple is fighting the good fight, and sometimes along the way, they have to do the "wrong" thing because the end result is good?

I just don't understand why you think it's okay for a phone that you bought and own that Apple can destroy it and disclaim responsibility.

I mean, I have a couple of Macs and iPods, but that doesn't mean I have fealty to the Apple brand. It's just a product. If it's good, you use it. If it's not good you criticize it. I have a feeling that no matter what Apple does, you would defend it because its goals are google.

That's not "support", that's "religion". Seriously.

Posted by: Bunkley | October 6, 2007 9:44 AM | Report abuse

Hey bunny,

You point to a blogger as "the truth"? C'mon man... a blogger is a guy (or gal) with a web page. There's no "truth" there, just speculation like you or I here on a WP message board.

I have lots of Apple products, and all of them break eventually, just like HP, Dell, or Lenovo stuff. The only difference is that Apple's stuff looks nicer, works better and they have people on their phone lines who speak English and are polite.

But you pay for that privledge. But they're not special or different and buying them doesn't make you smarter, or better informed.

Posted by: Truth | October 6, 2007 9:49 AM | Report abuse

I found a great website that will pay cash for a bricked, broken, used or new iPhone or iPod - Check it out.

Posted by: Brett | October 6, 2007 10:01 PM | Report abuse

I live 4-5 miles out of Minneapolis MN and AT&T service simply does not work. I drop about 40% of my calls and I do not even try to use my iphone with in a mile of my house. Keep in mind I can see downtown Minneapolis from my house so its not like I am in the sticks. I have had sprint & tmobile and they booh work great. Some of us are forced to hack our phones or simply throw them away!!

Posted by: sean | October 6, 2007 10:03 PM | Report abuse

I continue to be amazed when folks choose to break the rules and then expect sympathy when things go wrong. The iphone was sold as an AT&T system phone. There was never any secret about it. No one was forced to buy an iphone when they came on teh market. Folks chose to buy the phone w/the AT&T account.

Now that a few have also chosen to tinker with the workings fo the iphone so that they can use a different system and things fell apart with the upgrade, I am amazed that they feel something is owed them.

At what point to individuals accept responsibility for thier actions?

Posted by: henry | October 7, 2007 2:48 PM | Report abuse


No one is saying Apple must support modified phones, but it would have been trivial for Apple to simply notify the user... "This phone doesn't have software that is modifiable. Software is quitting without update".

You seem to think this is a matter of playing by some mythical rules. There are no rules in this case. Since you've paid full price for the phone, this is only a technical limitation, not a legal limitation.

Apple is just being greedy in this case and not the kind of company that you really want to do business with. If there are any rules, it's the rule that you don't screw with other people's property. Apple has no abided by the rules.

If you want to talk morality, let's lay out the fact:

1) users bought a phone from apple. The user completely owns this phone as the phone is not subsidized by the carrier or Apple.
2) The user has no obligation to do anything with the phone. They can choose to do nothing with it if they so desire.
3) The user has decided to modify their phone. Their property. You're allowed to modify your own stuff. This true legally, morally, and ethically.
4) Apple doesn't like this as they no longer have the ability to force you into a situation they'd like.
5) So they destroy your property.

How do you defend apple. You treat Apple like it's a religion... you overlook the bad stuff they do because you believe they're righteous somehow. It's okay to criticize Apple. Really. It's fine.

And you might as well criticize, because Apple is really wrong in this case. They had no right to destroy people's property simple because it suited them.

Posted by: Oh Henry | October 7, 2007 4:02 PM | Report abuse

I don't think it's a case of criticizing Apple. I guess the point I was trying to get across is that the phones were purchased as they were....limitations and all. It's not as if Apple changed the rules down the road. It's not that I'm defending Apple, but rather I'm questioning an attitude of "it's not my fault".

If someone wants to modify something they've purchased, that is certainly within their rights. I fully agree with what you're saying in that regard. I think where we diverge on this topic is the consequences of those actions.

I work in law enforcement and I often see people make choices that they regret. In some cases, they own up to their decision. In others, they look for someone else to blame....something that I see happening far too often in today's world.

Personally, I like the iphone, but will not buy one until they've come down in price and bugs have been worked out. It's the same strategy I use with anything that's just come out on the market.

Have a good one.

Posted by: henry | October 7, 2007 6:34 PM | Report abuse


Don't take this the wrong way, but because you work in law enforcement, you see things in terms of crime/consequences.

The difference in this case is the person who bought the phone is a *customer* of Apple.

I applaud what you do because you enforce laws that keep society running smoothly. What Apple is doing is trying to punish customers who won't give them as much money as they'd hoped.

Now, I support your position that Apple can screw it's customer as much as they want. But where I differ with you is that what Apple is doing is not a natural consequence, nor does it ultimately help Apple, nor it's customers. In fact, it's downright puzzling what Apple is doing to the customers who just paid it $500 to purchase a phone.

And by the way, hacking a phone is not wrong, nor immoral, nor illegal. It's just something Apple would rather you not do.

(I'm betting Apple will lose a class action on this, since the copyright office specifically grants exception to copyright for the express purpose of making phones to be interoperable with other services)

Posted by: So much for | October 7, 2007 7:37 PM | Report abuse

What happened to the customer is always right. The only way to deal with this kind of behavior from a manfacture if for them to see their bottom line go down. If you don't like what Apple did with this phone and continue to buy songs at itunes or buy any other Apple products you get what you deserve. They will only change when thier customers demand it by their buying power.

Posted by: Open User | October 7, 2007 9:45 PM | Report abuse

point #1: Never buy the first version of anything. This very much applies to any Apple products, as they are often innovative but this comes at a cost.
point #2: Since when did phone carriers start being ethical and nice?
point #3: Apple is known to cave in to pressure from consumers.
point #4: Apple has never behaved in this way before when its other products have been reverse engineered. I guess they want to keep on the good side of the carriers because without the carriers the iphone is an ipod touch.
summary: be patient, dont buy the first version, preferably leave it 2-3 years. Let someone else feel the pain. Better still, ditch your cell phone altogether, you'll be a lot richer for it and people you dont want to talk to wont bother you.

Posted by: ANDREW | October 8, 2007 7:09 AM | Report abuse

I now know why you Americans call them 'cell' phones.

Posted by: andy | October 8, 2007 7:16 AM | Report abuse

What amazes me about this whole "hacking" debate is when I keep hearing thats its just a cellphone but actually isn't it really a portable computer that can make cellphone calls? Its not even subsidized by ATT so buyers have paid full price for it.

So the question becomes. If you bought a Mac and Apple told you that you could only use it if you used AOL for the internet and were not allowed to add any application/programs to it would the Apple supporters still be saying "You broke the rules so live with it!"

Posted by: Don | October 8, 2007 8:03 AM | Report abuse

Very informative and knowledgeable discussions. It has answerd most of my problems. Thank you.

Posted by: Akber Kassam/NYC. | October 8, 2007 3:10 PM | Report abuse

Henry (and others expressing similar views),
While I completely agree with you about people refusing to take responsibility for their actions, I think you are missing the point. Users aren't cracking open their iPhones, breaking them then blaming Apple. Users have successfully made legal modifications to their personal property, then when they attempt to apply maintenance patches from Apple, Apple breaks their property. If I were modify my car so that it ran on natural gas rather than gasoline, and after taking it to the dealer for an oil change the car ceased to work, shouldn't I be able to complain about it?

The complaint has also not been that Apple isn't replacing the bricked phones it's the assumption that intentionally they bricked them.

Oh and as for Apple acting like Microsoft, M$ would have just bricked the phones, with out issuing the warning. Which is where I do sort of side with Henry. While I think Apple was completely wrong to brick the phones, if you modified your iPhone and went ahead and applied the patch after Apple released the warning you kind of deserve what you got.

Posted by: Norm | October 8, 2007 3:33 PM | Report abuse

- First, bunch of idiots waited in line day and night to get an IPhone
- Second, bunch of idiots got mad for lowered price
- Third, bunch of idiots pissed off after the update.

I like Apple products but I don't want to be tied to their products since there are so many to choose from. I don't want an IPhone or IPod since I can get Sansa, Zune, or Samsung phone. I got Samsung phone with Verizon, I can hack and create my own ring tone, music. The best of all, I can hack to connect my laptop to use EVDO. Again, I like Apple product but I don't want to be an idiot.

If you wanna sue them, visit this homepage below. Good luck to all Apple customers.

Posted by: Koolio | October 8, 2007 4:42 PM | Report abuse

A bit of sense about the iBricks, from a musician friend of mine:

p2p on wifi devices with large portable disk drives would be a nightmare for the copyright-owning industry. people like me would be swapping gigs all the time.

therefore they can't really let people run such applications.

not to mention skyping would completely remove the financial incentive for the phone network.

it really doesn't have much to do with fun. the business model simply wouldn't work if they allowed this.
--end quote

Which to me indicates a massive problem with the business model, rather than with what users want to do. The RIAA's strongarm tactics against filesharing aren't exactly winning friends and influencing people. In the meantime, Radiohead say, bollocks the RIAA and I say more power to 'em.

Posted by: James | October 8, 2007 6:07 PM | Report abuse

I must say I'm surprised to see this sort of criticism from Rob, who has been one of the dogged Apple faithful as long as I've been reading him, though I try not to hold that against him.

The plain truth is that Apple have always been much more proprietary minded than MS, to the point where they almost killed their computer division before they finally gave it up and went with Intel processors and an OS that was actually productive for people other than graphic artists and desktop publishers. (Does anyone out there believe 'Windows Emulation' was anything but a cosmic joke?)

So they finally see some success with Intel Macs and the iPod, but just can't stop themselves from jumping into bed with the recording industry nazis, and now with ATT, who have always been the bullies of the telecom industry.

I loved the story from 'First and Last Apple Product' above. If it had happened to me I'd be doing exactly the same thing, but I'd be keeping track of my hours invested in trying to rectify the situation ahead of a lawsuit. In my view, once I buy something, it's mine, not theirs. If the company that built it wants to say my warranty is void if I alter it, that's fine. But if they undertake to intentionally break it and make it unusable, that's an act of war.

We can only hope the resulting lawsuits and loss of business will diminish their arrogance. As if.

Posted by: Jaxon Burgess | October 10, 2007 1:25 PM | Report abuse

I have an iPhone and I ran the 1.1.1 update. No problems. For those who hacked their phones to run on T-Mobile and ended up with a brick after the update I ask this; did you read any of the verbiage prior to running the update? Can you read? There was a clear and very unambiguous warning about hacked phones and third party apps. You had to click on accept to continue. Perhaps you thought you were special, that Apple's warnings did not apply to you? Also, First and Last Apple product should have taken his phone in himself, not relied on someone else. Since he said he was off work at 3 P.M., he had the time to do so. My neighbor's iPhone went toes up after the update and his was not hacked and had no third party apps on it. He took it to the Apple store, told the genius what happened, and left with a new iPhone with his old SIM in it. No hassles. I have no sympathy for those who hacked their iPhones and expected them to continue functioning after the update. They clearly need to get a grip. If you want to hack your iPhone, I have no problem with that. If a security fix is incompatible with your hack, so not install it and whine when you iPhones bricks!

Posted by: Larry | October 10, 2007 2:04 PM | Report abuse

I pretty much run to buy any Apple product. I'm still using a gen 4 iPod. But iPhone? I know that a cell phone is a commission for life.

I'm paying 15/month w/Verizon. There's not much pain there. The iPhone? Too rich for me.

So, shame on Apple for their arrogance.

Posted by: martin Bernstein | October 11, 2007 1:12 AM | Report abuse

I agree with Rob. I bought an iPhone the day they came out, expecting enhancements and installable apps would follow shortly. I'm an avid Apple user and have found their software to be excellent and many great productive apps come freely with their OSs (like iLife, etc.). Since the iPhone is basically OS X, I figured the same would hold true for it. I really wanted to be able to install SlingPlayer on it at some point so I could watch baseball games when I'm away from home.

I avoided hacking my phone for a long time and was probably the last in my office to do it. Not to change carriers, mind you; I have no issue with AT&T and 2 year contract (aside from the cruddy coverage). I wanted applications. I wanted to personalize my background. I wanted to use Navizon GPS functionality. I wanted to make it MY phone, not Apple's phone. Other cell phones provide applications, can play Flash web pages, stream audio over the internet - none of which the iPhone does. So I did it myself (and I'm in the tech industry, so telling me to keep my paws out of what's essentially a mini-computer brings out the rebel in me). I paid a pretty penny for it. Let me use it! It belongs to me, not Apple. They'll probably provide those features with the next better less expensive version. If so, then I paid to be a beta tester. Blah.

I did update to 1.1.1 and my phone still works. But it wiped out all added apps. I miss them sorely (particularly the GPS). Having personalized the gadget only to go back to nondescript and with little usable function irritates me. I mean, there's only so much YouTube surfing you can do in a day and most sites and widgets these days are built with Flash - the iPhone doesn't support it. Give me my retro Pong game back!

Posted by: misschatter | October 11, 2007 2:46 PM | Report abuse

This blog has definitely arrived if it's on MissChatter's reading list :)

(BTW, good meeting you at Pearson's earlier this summer.)

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | October 11, 2007 4:05 PM | Report abuse

Heh, hi Rob! Definitely was great meeting you at Pearson's as well! I just discovered your blog today and recognized your name. It will definitely remain on my reading list :-)

Posted by: misschatter | October 11, 2007 4:43 PM | Report abuse

.... You get the idea.
Apple is unfair to both retailers and consumers. They insist that your products be cheap! I know most of you are as insulted by this as we at MS are.

Boycott APPLE! Vote for value with your wallets!

Posted by: steve Ballmer | October 11, 2007 4:54 PM | Report abuse

Yes, I picked up V1 of the phone. It works most of the time the way it should & its better then any other phone I've used to date. Yeah, the price drop so quickly after introduction was a minor irritant but for $50 a month for the neatist gizmo on the planet ain't bad. Yeah, ATT sucks compared to Verizon and they need more plan selection.
I like every update that comes out and won't brick it. I laugh at the fools that play with their iPhones and brick them. They were warned many times. Just buy out your contract or get a spare for that.
Wonder when 1.1.2 will come out with redeeming from the iTunes store and call service through wifi only access. It's not perfect but at least it has the chance of getting better. Can't say that about those stoneage phones that flip and are supposed to be sharp as a razor.

Posted by: Dave | October 14, 2007 5:33 PM | Report abuse

wow, the iphone sounds more like a hell phone, rather than a cell phone.

and almost all those people who are "avid" apple users make it sound like apple and the whole company itself is a religion; geeez.

Posted by: julius | January 1, 2008 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Why does ATT make Apple evil? Does that make sense? AND why is it all of a sudden OK for Apple to act this way if there is a contract with ATT as opposed to just acting that way on their own?

Are there not anti-trust questions here?

Why should these two companies be allowed to tie their products together in this way, forcing consumers to buy from both of them, and eliminating competition by private contract?

Posted by: Anonymous | January 1, 2008 6:10 PM | Report abuse

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