Will judge throw the brick at Apple?

11 Oct 2007

Apple’s decision to circulate a software update that rendered modified versions of its iPhone device useless has attracted two lawsuits alleging Apple and its partner AT&T engaged in monopolistic behaviour.

The two separate lawsuits were filed in San Jose, one in a Federal Court and the other in a State court and both seek class action status.

Under the Federal case it is alleged the companies engaged in unfair business practices and violations of anti-trust, telecoms and warranty laws.

It was filed by the firms of Hoffman & Lazear in Oakland and Folkenflik & McGerity in New York on behalf of two iPhone owners, Paul Holman and Lucy Rivello.

The State case was filed by attorney Damian Fernandez on behalf of California resident Timothy Smith.

It is believed that thousands of iPhone owners in the US hacked their device in order to unlock it for use with other mobile networks and to run a host of unsupported programs.

However, after an initial warning Apple released an update that would leave unlocked iPhone devices permanently disabled — and then known as ‘iBricks’.

The Federal lawsuit claims that by not allowing consumers to modify their iPhones to work on other carrier networks, the two companies had conspired to maintain a monopoly.

Apple has sold more than one million iPhone devices since they hit the market in June and a European launch of the device is anticipated in major markets such as the UK, Germany and France before Christmas.

The company had warned against hacking the iPhone, claiming that it would “likely result in the modified iPhone becoming permanently inoperable when a future Apple-supplied iPhone software update is installed”.

That warning has now proved correct as many owners are reporting that their phones no longer work following installation of the update.

Users on several websites, including Gizmodo (http://www.gizmodo.com) and The Unofficial Apple Weblog (http://www.tuaw.com) have reported that the update causes irreparable damage.

The iPhone offers an error message in some cases about an invalid SIM card, and users are unable to leave the error screen or revert the software. Inserting the original SIM card does not solve the problem.

The update also caused headaches for users who had performed a so-called ‘jail-break’ procedure to allow the iPhone to run custom applications. While the phones updated, most users reported that the installation locks were put back in place.

While it is estimated thousands of owners have unlocked the iPhone, only around 100 or more people have so far admitted their coveted iPhone has been converted into a brick.

By John Kennedy