iPhone: The Unlock Heard 'Round the World

No one ever doubted that the iPhone would be unlocked. It was only a matter of time before someone figured out how to crack the armor that heretofore has kept iPhone users from popping in a SIM card other than the iPhone-specific one that AT&T Wireless supplies with every new iPhone.

It seems that the team of someones at iPhoneSimFree.com are the first to successfully pull off this feat. The group says it has unlocked the phone, and will be releasing its software for sale starting next week.

Unlocking the iPhone dramatically widens the phone's appeal. For one, it means that you won't be tied to AT&T Wireless' services and network; you can use whatever local GSM network operates best for your needs--and potentially save money while doing so. Once it's been unlocked, you can take the phone with you anywhere, and pop in the SIM card of choice. For me, that would mean sticking with T-Mobile, where I already have a family plan and a service I don't want to change. For others, that may mean inserting a SIM purchased locally while traveling in Italy.

While we haven't tried this unlock yet ourselves, technology blog Engadget has given it a try, and found that the unlock works as advertised. Notably, Engadget says that at the moment, the hack appears "restore-resistant"--meaning you won't have to re-hack your phone after you apply an iPhone update. This is key to the success of any iPhone unlock process; Apple appears well on its way towards having multiple iPhone updates over time, and each software update so far has managed to undo any existing hacks on the iPhone.

I'll be interested to see what the response will be from Apple and AT&T Wireless. Considering you still have to buy the iPhone with a two-year AT&T Wireless contract, I'm not clear on how much of an advantage the iPhone unlock will be to the average consumer. You'll still have to pay to get out of your AT&T contract--which in turn will raise your overall cost-of-ownership on the iPhone.

Another consideration--if you plan to use the iPhone's Internet access over the cellular network--you'll want to pay for an unlimited data plan. The iPhone's Safari browser delivers the real, graphical Internet--which translates into lots of megabytes of data being transferred via the network. If you don't have unlimited data access, I'd shudder to think about the overage charges.

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