Richi Jennings

Apple bricks iPhones, even unhacked ones (and nikeja)

September 28, 2007 6:07 AM EDT
It's a phony Friday's IT Blogwatch: in which Apple's update is disabling iPhones, left right and center. Not to mention IKEA's new range of Ninja weaponry...

Gregg Keizer unlocks the news:
The iPhone firmware update released Thursday by Apple Inc. has disabled unlocked iPhones and wiped clean any evidence of unauthorized third-party applications ... Apple [had] warned customers that unlocked iPhones might be crippled, or "bricked" by the new upgrade ... it appears the company made good on its promise.
...
iPhoneSIMFree, a group of unnamed developers who created the first commercial unlock hack, confirmed the bricking ... The 1.1.1 update also disables third-party applications installed on the iPhone using the popular Installer.app hack ... [as well as] non-iTunes ringtones, also added to iPhones using end-around software.
...
For those who haven't unlocked or modified their iPhones, the 152MB update presented few problems. Among its prosaic components are access to the new iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store, a fix for the low speakerphone and receiver volume problem many users have reported, and the ability to view e-mail attachments in both portrait and landscape mode. Also included in the update are patches for 10 vulnerabilities, seven of which involve the iPhone's built-in Safari browser. [more]
Melissa Perenson adds:
The newly released iPhone 1.1.1 firmware is apparently wreaking havoc with iPhones that are running third-party applications or were unlocked and using a non-AT&T SIM card ... If you've already hacked your iPhone, I'd suggest taking a wait-and- see approach with regard to this latest update. No sense in further risking the health of your device unnecessarily, when you can gain from the collective knowledgebase of iPhone users ... For now, at least, Apple isn't requiring you to update the firmware alongside performing your iTunes update (7.4.3).

What concerns me is the precedent this latest update sets. We all have had the experience of having a device that worked perfectly well...until we performed some kind of software or firmware update. Now, here's one more such example. Currently, we have the option to upgrade our iTunes software. However, given how closed the Apple iTunes-iPod-iPhone ecosystem is, I can foresee a time when Apple might take away that option, and make it mandatory to upgrade your software and firmware both. If Apple were to take this step, though, that would take control and choice away from us users, though, and constrain the fledgling third-party iPhone development community. [more]
Jesus Diaz helps out:
Here is the summary of what it does:
  • The update will work ok in iPhones with no modification.
  • The update will work ok in iPhones with Installer.app (although it gets wiped out; the apps seem to remain in the iPhone, but they won't appear in your screen).
  • The update will work ok in unlocked iPhones, but it will return your iPhone to the activation screen. From there, no activation is possible. The iPhone doesn't get bricked but ... if you want to keep using it, don't update your iPhone ...
  • "Third-party applications won't work after the update" ...
  • "Firmware 1.1.1. relocks iPhone properly" [much more]
Saul Hansell shakes his head:
There is something futile about the way Apple appears to be fighting some of its most ardent fans, those who want to use the full capabilities of the iPhone ... The result: Serious hackers will keep find new ways to break in. Less technically inclined may well find themselves chastened into technological submission, assuming they can get their pricey toys to work at all. Will Apple really refuse to help people with iBricks?

Speaking in London last week, Steve Jobs, Apple’s chief executive, said the company is in a “cat and mouse” game with hackers ... Apple may well be justified using tough tactics against people who modify their phones so they no longer use the AT&T network. Apple stands to receive several hundred dollars for each phone over the course of two years from AT&T’s service fees ... The simple way to defuse this fight, of course, would simply be for Apple to sell an unlocked iPhone for, say, $300 more than the locked version. But this gets at Apple’s propensity for control.
...
Since the iPhone is a very sleek, capable handheld computer, people are going to want to run programs on it. They are going to want to hack and see what they can build. It’s a law of nature. And Apple might as well be fighting gravity ... Apple essentially has two choices. Either it exposes most of the iPhone’s capabilities to developers. Or it will have to gird for an ever escalating war in which it will have to send ever more electronic brick-bombs to its best customers who don’t follow its strict rules. [more]
Ben Gracewood imagines the shoe on the other foot:
A recently released update to Windows XP will detect any changes to system libraries, and if ‘hacks’ are detected it will erase all user data and preferences on the system and return Windows to its default install state. For example, if you have modified the uxtheme.dll library to allow 3rd-party desktop themes, the latest Windows Update will revert this change, and completely restore your Windows installation to its default state.

Imagine for a second if the above paragraph were true.  How widespread and vociferous would the outrage be? Yet this is exactly what Apple has just done. Owners of legally purchased iPhones who have modified their own phones for legitimate reasons will at the very best lose the ability to use the iPhone as intended, and at worst have the iPhone irreparably damaged by the latest update. [more]
But it's not just hacked iPhones. A worried Robert Scoble takes a break from Twitter:
Apple has a PR nightmare brewing…

Tons of people on Twitter are reporting problems with their iPhones. Including my son. Including Jeff Clavier. Anyone else having this problem? These are people who have not unlocked their iPhones ... [my son]’s iPhone lost all of its data ... My iPhone update seems to have gone well. New icon on home screen says “iTunes.” Meanwhile the Twitters from people with updates that didn’t go well continue to come in. [more]
And Dave Winer rounds up other reports:
  • Francine ... Hardaway's phone was "fried," she needed a new phone ... "Trust me, I didn't hack it."
  • Jeff Clavier: "This effing piece of s..t is bricked."
  • Spaley's iPhone is now "a useless piece of c**p."
  • Looks like Josh Bancroft's iPhone was hosed too.
I would hold off on the update until we find out what's going wrong. [more]
Buffer overflow:
Around the Net
Around Computerworld Previously in IT Blogwatch
And finally... Weaponår för Ninjä [an ASBO is a British "anti-social behaviour order"]
Richi Jennings is an independent analyst/adviser/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and spam. A 20 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. You too can pretend to be Richi's friend on Facebook, or just use boring old email: blogwatch@richi.co.uk.