Click to viewApple has told us that—first—unlocking software causes "irreparable damage" to the iPhone and—second—this "will likely result" in a "permanently inoperable" device in the future. Is this true or is Apple trying to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt among potential unlocked-iPhone users? The short answer: Yes, it's FUD on both accounts. We've worked with the Dev Team and lawyers to bring you the technical explanation and the potential legal consequences of Apple's move.
The iPhone Unlocking vs Apple FAQ
Does unlocking software cause "irreparable damage" to the iPhone?
No, it doesn't. The only thing that the anySim software does is modify part of the firmware so it's not limited to use only AT&T SIM cards. Modify is not "damaging." It just means that specific values in the seczone have been replaced by others. Technically, according to the Dev Team:
It modifies the firmware to accept any given nck to open the phone for any carrier. This causes the phone to write a bogus values into the seczone as an unlock token.
This means that values can be written and changed back to their original state easily, just as easily as they were originally changed to allow the unlock.
Could Apple have been able to upgrade iPhones without the likely possibility of bricking the iPhone? (According to Apple, their firmware will likely and "permanently" make the device "inoperable.")
Yes, it could have been done. As someone in the Dev Team core puts it:
Apple has multiple ways of upgrading the [firmware of the] baseband [radio chip] without committing a 500,000-phone massacre.
First, they can issue a secpack [security pack] for everything in the firmware. They could simply issue one of these to restore the value if a regular token is not detected, thus rewriting this part to its original state. This process would most likely defeat any unlock available, Dev Team or iPhone Sim Free, without bricking the iPhone in any way.
New firmware updates could also employ new firmware which closes the loophole that allows the use of a secpack for other operations. They could make this method of updating even resistant to tampering or abuse for a unlock. The possibilities are there.
So yes, as you can see, Apple could do the described operation, changing the values back to its original state then forcing a restore to factory of the whole firmware.
Is the total bricking a real possibility?
It's not clear if Apple will finally brick or not the iPhone in the next update. Or what they mean with "permanently inoperable." The Dev Team speculates that "it won't be a true bricking at all. The firmware would probably roll back to a default state similar to its state after manufacturing. This state is indicated by a lost IMEI number, which results in the iPhone being unusable with any network."
In fact, this is what you will get if you flash a retail firmware in any phone that has been previously updated.
But is this problem permanent?
No, it's not. The problem is not permanent and can be reverted, as the Dev Team points out:
Currently this state is easy to fix, but future [hardware] updates will just close the flashing flaw and let you alone with your factory-like phone.
After the bricking, can Apple provide a way to revert iPhones to factory status and re-lock iPhones, patching them so the current unlock solution can't be applied?
Yes, definitely. See above. If the iPhone Dev Team hackers can do it, working with no documentation, Apple engineers can do exactly the same.
Will the iPhone Dev Team revert the iPhone to its original state
Yes, they have said before they are working on this and they have code already written to do so.
This code, however, won't unlock the iPhone again, it'll just revert it to factory state. New unlocking software may come soon thereafter. There's more information on this, but we can't use it in this article yet.
Knowing all this, what could be the legal consequences? Could Apple get sued for damaging private property, consciously knowing that their update will brick unlocked cellphones unnecessarily?
While they can get sued, the lawsuit will hardly prosper. Apple is very well covered by their warranty text. Here's what our legal advisor had to say on the matter:
As far as I have read, the software unlock will permit the phone to operate outside of Apple's intended use, i.e. on another network. Arguably, the US iPhone was designed (firmware included) to operate only on the ATT network.
The warranty says: "This warranty does not apply: (a) to damage caused by use with non- Apple products; (b) to damage caused by accident, abuse, misuse, flood, fire, earthquake or other external causes; (c) to damage caused by operating the product outside the permitted or intended uses described by Apple."
The question is then whether unlocking/installing third party software on the phone "damages" the phone. It's clear that physical alteration of the phone to allow it to connect to another network (like the hardware unlock method) will void the warranty.
However, damage to the phone does not necessarily exclude firmware/software hacks. Apple could claim to "void" the warranty if the phone is returned to the apple store in an unlocked state if alterations are made to the firmware, thus allowing it operate outside of its intended use (i.e. on the AT&T network) or installing third party applications (after all, apple's intended use of the product did NOT include installation of 3rd party products.)
If, as you claim, the phone could be returned to its natural state before service, then I would recommend everyone return the phone to its factory state before any service is made to avoid a flag in apple's hardware database of a "void warranty for intentional damage.