Many iPhone users want greater control over their device, especially in terms of which network operators they can use. If you choose to follow this route, though, you should be aware of some risks and how to avoid them.
The Difference Between Factory Unlocking and Jailbreaking
Apple seems to have a policy of not encouraging their customers to fiddle too much with their products at a fundamental level. The main reason for this is simply that users tend to break their iPhones when they mess with things they don’t fully understand, and this would place an unreasonable burden on Apple’s tech support if doing so did not void the products warranty.
In the case of official unlocking at the factory level, your warranty remains valid and your phone will continue to function normally, except that you will no longer be tied to a specific service provider. What this process does is to remove the lock to the phone company, but doesn’t change the iPhone’s operating system. Jailbreaking, on the other hand, does mess with iOS. Even if you didn’t realize it, you agreed not to do this when you purchased the product; it’s in the end user license agreement. If something goes wrong – which it very well might, especially for unskilled users – they will not help you out.
Unlocking your iPhone from a licensed service provider, however, is both legal and common practice in the U.S. and most other countries. The reasoning behind this is that, if you own the phone, you should be able to do what you want with it as long as you don’t break any other laws. Reverse engineering or tampering with software owned by Apple would be breaking one such law, but as long as you steer clear of that, your warranty and access to customer support remain intact.
DO: Understand the Effect on Customer Support
The exception to the above is if your phone company has tied you into a contract for some period of time, usually one or two years. You may be able to terminate the contract yourself by paying a cancellation fee. Factory unlocking is done with the cooperation and support of Apple itself, but other forms of unlocking exist which modify the iOS software. If you use one of these, even if your phone contract has expired, the warranty on your iPhone will also be voided.
If your warranty has already expired, you have less incentive not to try either jailbreaking or unofficial types of unlocking, but Apple might choose to refuse you service even if you’re willing to pay for it. The only way around this will be to restore the factory default settings on your device, not only so that your photos and contacts seem to have disappeared, but so that your modification is in no way detectable by a service technician. In short, jailbreaking is technically illegal, but the only realistic way to enforce this is refusing to fix the phone you broke.
DON’T: Use a Fly By Night Unlocking Company
If you choose to unlock your phone contrary to the above conditions, legitimate service companies which have agreements with Apple itself probably will not be willing to assist you. If your phone company can’t stop you from removing their lock, however, which in the case of factory unlocking won’t affect your Apple warranty, make sure that you’re dealing with someone respectable.
Factory unlocking is only legal when it’s done by making changes to Apple’s database. Using do-it-yourself software, or paying someone else to do it, means that you’ve hacked your phone’s operating system. This is illegal, not least because it can be used to reactivate stolen or blocked iPhones. Unless you have a fairly deep understanding of software, this will in any case probably result in a phone that won’t ever work again. It might even work fine for a while, then crash after the next software update.
DO: Contact Your Carrier First
Some network operators make it as difficult as possible to unlock phones bought from them, though some will help you right away. While the ethics of this are debatable, you should know that this has little to do with Apple.
DO: Buy Your iPhone From an Apple Store Next Time
You may have been thinking that you’ll never need to complain about weak signals or hidden fees with your service provider, but judging by the number of customers who want to unlock their iPhones, this is often not the case. Buying directly from Apple might seem to be more expensive in the short run, but you won’t find yourself locked into paying for a contract you don’t want for the next 24 months.