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Teen Picks iPhone's AT&T Lock

By Katherine Noyes MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Aug 24, 2007 11:37 AM PT

A college-bound teenager has successfully unlocked Apple's iPhone from AT&T's wireless network and posted instructions on the Web to help others do the same.

Teen Picks iPhone's AT&T Lock

After roughly 500 hours of work figuring out how to do it, 17-year-old George Hotz is now using his iPhone on T-Mobile. He posted his 10-step hack on his blog Thursday, along with a video illustrating it on YouTube; by early Friday afternoon, his video had been viewed by some 130,000 people.

"My iPhone works with T-Mobile now, and that's all I ever wanted," Hotz told MacNewsWorld.

Apple officials could not be reached for comment. AT&T spokesperson Michael Coe declined to comment, saying only that "Apple, the device manufacturer, is the most appropriate party to comment on this."

Two-Hour Labor

Hotz, also known as "geohot" online, began working on the hack back on June 29, the day the iPhone was released, along with four other online collaborators. Working 8 to 10 hours a day, he finally distilled his efforts into a two-hour process that involves both soldering and software skills.

"I'm sorry about how hard [these instructions] are to follow, but someone will get them to work, and simplify them, and simplify them more," Hotz wrote on his blog. "Hopefully a software unlock will be found in the near future."

Hotz's hack not only allows users to operate the iPhone on T-Mobile, but also potentially on those of overseas carriers.

'Totally Legal'

"I think this is a great thing for users," Hotz said. "What I want is for people to be able to buy an iPhone, unlock it and use it."

Regarding the legality of the maneuver, "it's totally legal," Hotz asserted. "It's covered under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act."

Hotz has no plans to continue work on the iPhone or any other device. In fact, on Saturday he leaves for the Rochester Institute of Technology, where he will study neuroscience.

"I'm staying away from all computer science and electrical engineering," he said. "After this, I'm done."

An Amazing Feat

"I'm amazed that this could be done by a 17-year-old," Neil Strother, a wireless analyst with JupiterResearch, told MacNewsWorld. "It's incredible that a smart teenager could break down the barriers AT&T and Apple have so carefully put up."

Legal issues aside, "the iPhone is an amazing device, with elegant software and integration of services, and this makes it clear that devices like this long to live on other networks," Strother said.

The technical difficulty will likely be prohibitive to most mainstream consumers, as may any risks from both a legal and a warranty perspective, Strother noted. So in the end, "it's probably not a major threat to Apple and AT&T. You can hack your TiVo and your computer if you want to, but most people don't."

Unless the process is simplified and a number of copycat efforts follow, "I don't think a boatload of folks will copy this and kill off the golden goose for Apple and AT&T," Strother said. "I also don't think it will be worth the companies' while to make a big stink about it."

Breaking the Business Model

Nevertheless, there remains the fact that Apple and AT&T are both counting on the iPhone's exclusivity to justify the device's relatively high prices, Strother added.

"They're banking on that, but Hotz has broken their business model," he said. "He may be Robin Hood for the masses, but this could hurt their bottom line, so there are probably some corporate lawyers who aren't so excited."

In the big picture, Hotz's efforts seem to derive from the same spirit as Google's widely proclaimed desire to open up the 700 MHz wireless spectrum for access by all devices, applications, services and networks, Strother added.

What will happen if, in six months or a year, someone simplifies Hotz's process or invents a software hack? "That could pose another issue altogether," Strother said. "It will all come down to how much revenue is potentially lost."

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