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iPhone unlocking for pleasure and profit

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Today, I successfully unlocked two iPhones, and they weren't even mine...

Hexus.net head, card carrying gadget freak David Ross, nipped out during a pre-Intel Developer Forum presentation here in San Francisco, and came back with a pair of iPhones. Yes, the European version's going to be announced in London tomorrow, but it's still locked to a single network, and the US model is slightly cheaper.

Now, David's recently been converted to the Way of Mac, but he's here with his Windows laptop, and after a big of Googling complained to me he couldn't find an obvious Windows-centric guide to cutting AT&T out of the iPhone loop.

Being a Mac guy myself, and having already downloaded onto my MacBook Pro a heap of tools for the task - I've got an eye on the iPhone too - I suggested we give it a go there and then.

It's not exactly a quick process, though having learned from the first run, the second iPhone took a lot less time to do. My advice, read through the instructions first and, ideally, print them out for easy reference. There are plenty of steps, and it's very easy to miss one out.

First, heartfelt thanks to the folks who posted the Mac OS X iPhone unlocking walkthrough over at ModMyiPhone. You can read it here, and it tells you all you need to know.

It's a time consuming process, updating the handset's firmware, activating it with third-party software - the invaluable iNdependence and opening it up to install non-Apple apps. More third-party tools - AppTap Installer and then the iPhone's own Installer - get you ready to begin downloading the system software you need to put in place to copy across the final pieces of the puzzle.

That involves Secure FTP'ing over the unlocking app and system setting files, at which point you've still got 20 minutes or more to wait. The unlock tool appears to patch the phone's firmware. It takes an age, but that makes the final swapping of the SIMs and firing up the iPhone to make a call all the more rewarding.

Gotchas? We thought we'd installed the BSD Subsystem and OpenSSH code needed to access the iPhone's file system when all we'd done was install some "packages to get access to more packages". And do turn off the iPhone's automatic screen-lock when the instructions tell you - we forgot the second time round, and it's no fun having to keep touching the display to make sure the iPhone doesn't doze off while its firmware's being flashed.

You must have a wireless network to hand, and make sure it's an open one. We tried it at first using the WLAN the hotel had laid on for hacks to use during the Intel presentations, and found it was blocking SFTP. A quick hop to another location and a different wireless network, and we were able to proceed.

And yes, it feels good when it works, though we'd have both felt serious aggrieved if it hadn't. We didn't brick either iPhone, though there were a couple of moments when we thought we had. It is possible to restore an bricked iPhone to health, but we didn't need to try it, thank the great god of geeks.

Finally, I'd like to say a big thank you to all the coders and testers who've made the process possible. Give them a round of applause, folks. Right - now I'm off to the AppleStore to get an iPhone of my own, and do it all over again...

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