Apple warns unlocked iPhones may become inoperable

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Apple ended its silence on unlocking the iPhone via third-party hacks with a warning Monday that unlocked iPhones may become inoperable.

"Apple has discovered that many of the unauthorized iPhone unlocking programs available on the Internet cause irreparable damage to the iPhone's software, which will likely result in the modified iPhone becoming permanently inoperable when a future Apple-supplied iPhone software update is installed," the company said in a statement.

Unlocking the iPhone is a process that hackers have developed to allow the device to work with SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) cards from carriers other than AT&T Wireless, Apple's preferred carrier. The applications and instructions developed by hackers over the past couple of months are freely available on the Internet, but users may wish they waited.

Asked to clarify the statement, Apple representatives said they "are not proactively trying to disable any iPhone that has been hacked or unlocked by software."

The first hint that Apple would take a more aggressive stand toward unlocking hacks came last week during the company’s London press event to announce the U.K. ship date for the iPhone. Asked by a reporter what Apple was doing to stop people from unlocking their phones, CEO Steve Jobs called it “a cat and mouse game.”

“I’m not sure if we are the cat or the mouse. People will try to break in, and it’s our job to stop them breaking in,” he added.

Apple made it very clear that it would not be responsible for any damage caused by the installation of third-party unlocking software.

"Users who make unauthorized modifications to the software on their iPhone violate their iPhone software license agreement and void their warranty," the company said in its statement. "The permanent inability to use an iPhone due to installing unlocking software is not covered under the iPhone's warranty.

The company said that the next software update for the iPhone would be available later this week. That update will include the recently announced iTunes Wi-Fi store.

Update: Added more information on what unlocking is and Jobs' comments from London. 6:12 pm ET.
Added comments from Apple. 7:51 pm.

Macworld's Philip Michaels contributed to this report.

This story, "Apple warns unlocked iPhones may become inoperable" was originally published by PCWorld.

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