Apple agrees to sell iPhones in France unlocked

On a previous blog at DailyTech, it was revealed that iPhones were invading France for the holiday season, after French carrier Orange struck a deal with Apple for distribution rights.

Now in a surprising twist, Apple and Orange will team up in France, and only in France, to offer the iPhone unlocked.

The move comes after Apple met a roadblock when its international policy of banning unlocking was challenged by French law.  A French telecommunications law, passed in 1998 states that manufacturers must offer to unlock consumers phones for a small fee for the first sixth months after release, and for free after that, as reported via French news site Les Echoes

The locked version of the phone will cost €399, but the unlocked version's price has not yet been announced by Apple.  It may cost significantly more, though as French law mandates, Apple must agree to sell the phones unlocked at no premium after six months.

In the U.S. there are no laws that explicitly state that locking a phone to a network is illegal, though recent class action suits have accused Apple and its U.S. carrier, AT&T, of violating U.S. antitrust and warranty laws.

Apple is very much against unlocking iPhones, probably due to the fact that it makes a large cut of the phone contract, as detailed in the upcoming UK release.  Apple loses this revenue when its phones are moved over other networks which do not give a cut of revenues to Apple.

Apple has gone as far as "bricking" iPhones with its new v1.1.1 firmware update, the primary point in the two class action suits.  Apple has in the past ardently opposed to the installation and development of unauthorized third party applications for its devices.  The update turns iPod Touches and iPhones with third party apps or unlocked iPhones into "iBricks," which are frozen in a state of limbo.

There is unlocking software available, which unfreezes the devices, but costs a whopping $100.  Still, some feel this is a small price to pay to save their iDevice from becoming a paperweight.  It is also cheaper than the solution proposed by Apple's spokeswoman to owner of "iBricks" -- to go buy a new iPhone.

Apple also has had to contend with recent reports of iFires, accusations of environmental misconduct, and another upcoming class action suit based on these allegations, which accuse Apple of using toxic materials in its iPhone.

Apple would not comment on whether its agreement to sell unlocked iPhones in France could be mirrored in the U.S., but it seems unlikely to do so, unless legally compelled to.

For now Apple will continue to wrestle with unlockers and legal issues in the U.S., but in France the news is "Vive le unlocking."

Update 10/18/2007:
Apple softened its position on third party software, according to a new letter by Apple CEO Steve Jobs.  In the letter Jobs praises third party developers and reveals that Apple will be offering them a software development kit in February.  He explains that the reason for the long delay before the SDK release is to protect the iPhone from "viruses and malware."

Unfortunately for some, he gave no indication that Apple would take measures to unbrick iPhones or iPod Touches which were bricked because of previous unauthorized third party applications.  He also did not state whether the next release of the firmware for the iPhone and iPod Touches would continue to lock the file system and turn phones with third party applications into iBricks.

"I'd be pissed too, but you didn't have to go all Minority Report on his ass!" -- Jon Stewart on police raiding Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's home
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