ZDNet’s Dignan: Apple’s unwinnable war with iPhone unlockers puts reputation at risk

“Apple is clearly in a war with hackers over the iPhone and its most loyal fans could take a few hits,” Larry Dignan blgos for ZDNet. “Today’s angst over iPhones becoming iBricks because they were modified is really just the beginning. There are a few reports of non-hacked iPhones going dark following Apple’s latest firmware update.”

MacDailyNews Take: Why is there any “angst” at all for modded iPhones becoming iBricks when Apple warned users ahead of time (and during the update process)? Is it logical to expect any company to support unsupported hacks? Of course, not.

Dignan continues, “The iPhone update is just the latest example. Consider the following moving parts:”

• Apple cut the price of the premium iPhone by $200 just weeks after die-hards waited in line to pay $599 for it. Steve Jobs met these early adopters half way and gave them a $100 store credit. Where’s the other $100? If Steve really cared about you perhaps Apple would have made you better than whole, say a $250 credit.

MacDailyNews Take: Some portion of 0.33% of the U.S was upset that they paid the price on the box and then it changed. The other 99.67% of the U.S. population only sees a much better price. How many other companies offer $100 store credits when they change prices. Take your time, we’ll wait…

• The iPhone sticks you with one carrier–AT&T–that few people want. Why? Apple got the best deal from AT&T. We aren’t privy to the math behind the AT&T and Apple deal, but we do know none of these hacks to unlock the iPhone would be necessary if we had carrier choice. What’s the cost differential between adding a few carriers to the iPhone and wasting time developing software to outflank hackers?

MacDailyNews Take: Interesting question. However, assuming that Apple didn’t use Excel to do the math, one would tend to believe that the differential was great enough to have to sit through half-witted online petitions calling for Apple to change their product and nix their business deals, the fulminations of so-called tech reporters, etc. This is the way Apple has chosen to market the product they developed. AT&T in the U.S. is currently part of the product’s specs. If you don’t like it, there are other (lesser) so-called “smartphones.” It is not an unalienable right that everyone has an iPhone. If you want to deal with what unlocking the iPhone entails, then more power to you. But you shouldn’t complain when unsupported mods go unsupported.

• Apple has the best tech support in the business and could put it at risk over the iPhone. According to Consumer Reports June 2007 rankings Apple had a reader score of 81 out of a possible 100 when servicing desktops and laptops. On laptops the next best score was Lenovo’s 66 and Dell’s 60. One theory behind Apple’s score: Apple owners are an elite–some would say elitist–club. These folks will get whatever Apple pumps out of the product pipeline. Consumer Reports bases its scores on reader surveys. In these surveys perception matters. With the iPhone Apple is going mass market scores for Apple are only going to decline based on the laws of large numbers.

MacDailyNews Take: Another, more logical theory: Apple’s products are more reliable than other companies and Apple offers better tech support than other companies. Radical ideas, we know.

Full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: The more customers a company gets, the more complaints it will receive, as the percentage of “unsatisfied” customers is likely to remain constant despite growth. Apple should do whatever they can to improve support, quality, and their business decisions as they grow in order to protect their good reputation. Apple is not without fault – and can do better with some things – but the worries presented by Digan strike us as more than a bit overwrought.

106 Comments

  1. Tom… you apparently have a very low regard for developers…

    What you fail to understand… at least in your ranting… is that even the base OS X platform is created by developers…..

    I agree with you re: the list of useless apps that you identified for the iPhone…. but you are also attacking a MUCH larger demographic of developers that DO write productive apps also…. not to say that some of us don’t enjoy the occasional game also.

    I don’t think I am too good for the web…. but I also hate being limited in developing apps that are limited to running on some ‘middle layer interpreted’ platform…. it is like trying to develop pc apps in BASIC where you have very little control over the underlying OS.

  2. I could see if you were getting a discout from ATT or any other subscriber when purchsing the Iphone, But you are paying full price plus requireing you to buy a data plan with the voice plan from att

    If I but a Iphone in germany from TMobile, will it work with Tmobile here (same company, differant companys)

  3. Three comments:

    1) I don’t buy the argument that Apple had no choice and had to go with one carrier. This was a business decision, not a technical decision. For example, the visual voicemail feature could have been implemented without a close partnership. Apple could have simply run the voicemail servers itself. Unanswered calls get forwarded to the Apple voicemail servers (normal GSM forwarding). If the phone is on, it forwards the call and so it can just check for the voicemail audio file (over the internet) a few minutes later. No need for help from the carrier.

    2) Apple should spend a little effort on tools to help restore phones that were disabled after the 1.1.1 update. Chalk the cost up to good PR. Apple is contractually obliged to prevent unlocks, not to punish unlockers. Make them wait a bit, though, to discourage unlocking. And don’t promise to do this next time.

    3) Apple should produce a 3rd party developer kit and provide an official way (through iTunes) to get native apps onto the iPhone. Unapproved apps will be less convenient because they’ll disappear after updates, but Apple should try to guarantee that, as long as an app doesn’t change anything that a restore doesn’t undo, it won’t hurt the iPhone.

  4. Wow! I was just about to jump in and buy an iphone this morning when I heard a customer complain agitatedly about his iphone dying. I put my visacard back and left the store. I’m glad I did so. I’d been feeling hesitant anyway. I think I’ll upgrade my Nokia!

  5. “when I heard a customer complain agitatedly about his iphone dying.”

    WHEW! That was close! You almost really fscked up!
    I also heard from someone, somewhere that air is bad for you!
    Like OMFG! ! !

  6. TJ,

    I have a very high regard for developers, and work with them every single day. Have for years. That does NOT mean they cannot pick fights that are ridiculous. I think this is one of those times. I consider it whining and misguided.

    Crying in your beer solves nothing. This has nothing to do with development, per se, but rather an illogical ranting, lack of patience, and loss of productivity (since a developer pissing about the iPhone is not working on something else).

    I understand you disagree, but let’s be clear that writing me off as some sort of developer-hater is way off base.

  7. @SHIVA

    “Your analogy is flawed. I don’t think that anyone who physically modifies their iPhone expects Apple to support it. Changing software, though, is reversible. If Apple were to release an update that breaks unlocked iPhones, and then doesn’t allow folks a way to reset the software back to factory stock, then I’d call that a problem. Apple doesn’t put this requirement on the desktops or laptops, and since the iPhone runs a variant of OS X, there’s no reason why some one who’s clever enough to do it shouldn’t be able to change the software. They should, however, be able to reset the software, just as you can do on a desktop or laptop from Apple.”

    Well, if you know how to mod the phone in the first place knowing that there’s no way to get the phone back, you should be intelligent enough to write the software for reset yourself. So, if you *want* apple’s updates, make sure you reset the software first, apply the updates, and put your hacks again.

    “Besides which, even everyone’s “favorite” law, the DMCA, has an exception for unlocking phones so that they’ll be able to work on other than the original network. If the morons who passed the DMCA even see the ability to change networks as worthwhile and something that should be legally protected, why do have an issue with folks who want to buy an iPhone but don’t want AT&T;’s service?”

    If that’s the reason, why did you buy the iPhone in the first place knowing fully well that it will work only with AT&T;. iPhone today comes only with AT&T;. Take it or leave it.

    “The iPhone is a great device, but there are plenty of ways it could be better. I’d love to own one, except that I’m not willing to change service plans (no one’s been able to beat my current monthly price), and I’m not willing to pay nearly double what I do now every month just to get an iPhone. Besides which, with an iPhone, I’d lose some capabilities that my current phone has (save, view, and edit Office docs, save and view PDF’s, run 3rd party apps), and it’s not a good trade for me even with the features that are exclusive to the iPhone.”

    Don’t try to patronize anyone. In the current form, iPhone does not do the job. So, stop saying I would like to have iPhone but…. blah blah blah. You should not buy a product that doesn’t do what you want to do. And don’t try to buy a product thinking that you can make it do what you want to; and then complaining that it doesn’t do what you want it to do.

    “And before any fanboys pipe up accusing me of being a Microsoft hack, I’ve been a Mac user for the last 14 years. I only use Windows at work, and then only when necessary.”

    No one cares a damn who you are; as long as your point is valid.

    Everyone talks about Apple backstabbing its “consumers.” Who are these consumers? I define consumers as those who buy the product knowing the “limitations” of the product more than the features of the product. If you don’t like certain restrictions on the product, just don’t buy it. But, people can’t do that. They want the product which doesn’t fit their requirements and then complain about it. Why?

    These people who complain are the geeks who try to break anything you give them. As you grow bigger, you will see more of these people. But, they are not “consumers.” Even if you are an Apple fan, and you would like to have iPhone, but you don’t like the tie-up to AT&T;, just let this round pass. May be things will change in future.

    These people who bitch and moan are simply some insignificant unsuccessful geeks (their unsuccessful nature is shown in the fact that they did not even bother to create a restore software to get the device back to its original form.). They are crying because they are unsuccessful. They don’t care about the so-called consumers either. They will always find faults with everything you give them; but will never make one thing by themselves which 100 people would like.

  8. 1. Along with Hot Carl, I can’t stand AT&T;, and will not voluntarily do business with them. (I switched my landline phone service from SBC to Cox when I found out that SBC was going to become AT&T;.) I think that adopting the AT&T;name, with all of its attendant bad-will, was one of the stupidest business moves in history.

    2. A question of value arises with the iPhone and locking it into AT&T;. Most “locked” phones are subsidized by the carrier to the tune of a couple of hundred dollars. And the iPhone, as good as it is, IMNTBHO, just isn’t that much better (at least, for what I use a mobile phone for).

    3. Several people commented that “software should be easy to change/fix.” The problem is that embedded software, or “firmware”, in many cases might as well be hardware. Secure systems tend to need the right firmware in order to update the firmware itself; if a firmware update (say, a hack) overwrites code or data on which an update to a “standard” system depends, it’s very possible that the next “standard” update to the firmware of the phone may cause it to no longer fully function, or even have the ability to update, and might require physical intervention to operate again. In other words, “bricked.”

    3. There is a bias in American attitude, tradition, and law which favors open competition over “lock-in” deals. While Apple and AT&T;have the right to make such a “lock-in” deal, it really seems more something that AT&T;would do – not Apple. To say that this move is out of character for Apple, at least since the return of Steve Jobs, is I think an understatement.

    4. I’m still a Verizon customer. Though I’d really like to have an iPhone, right now – all things considered – it’s just not worth it.

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