Hacking the iPhone

27 Aug 2007

First it was a 17-year-old on his summer break. Now the iPhone hack has become an industry.

George Holtz of New Jersey says it took him 500 hours, a soldering iron and some sustained software hacking to unlock the iPhone. He posted it on his blog last Thursday and spent the weekend doing media interviews.

But devices Web site Engadget reports that a software hack is now commercially available from a group called iPhonesimfree.com. It took a six-member team working from the iPhone's launch seven weeks ago to break the software, which binds the iPhone to the AT&T network.

Engadget said when it tested the unlock it took "a couple of minutes" and was "totally painless". iPhonesimfree don't say when the software will be available, but their Web site invites inquiries for bulk purchases of 500 licenses and above.

Another firm, Unique Phones, promised to release a second unlock on the weekend but claimed it received a mysterious last-minute phone call from AT&T lawyers. Note to Unique Phones: It's not illegal to unlock a US phone.

The commercial opportunity that opens up here is in markets outside the US, especially in gadget-obsessed Asia.

Already unlocked iPhones are available in China. Beijing News reported that unlocked 8GB iPhones are now on sale in Beijing's high-tech district Zhongguancun at a price of 8,800 yuan, or $1,320 - more than twice the US price. For an extra 200 yuan staff will supply a Chinese operating system.

The phones arrived in the mainland via Hong Kong. An Apple spokesperson said the company still had not set a timetable for the supply of the iPhone to the mainland market.

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