Apple on the lookout for one million unlocked iPhones

Steve Jobs' strategic headache


About 27 per cent of the iPhones sold in 2007 are being operated on unauthorized wireless networks, according to research released today. That works out at about one million handsets.

The unlocked phones are used largely in regions where the must-have device isn't officially sold, according to a report issued by Bernstein Research analyst Toni Sacconaghi. He says the appetite for the modified phones has given way to a cottage industry that sells hacks or phones that come out of the box unlocked. Most phones originated in the US where, thanks to current currency exchange rates, prices are comparatively low.

AT&T reported having about two million iPhones on its network as of the end of the year. Over the same period, Apple said it sold 3.75m units. These figures caught the eye of Sacconaghi last week, prompting him to write an initial research note. "Significant interest" in that note led the analyst to dig deeper into the matter. As a result, he pumped out fresh figures today that include information gained from talking to channel partners and other sources.

"We now believe that 315,000 iPhones were sold in Europe (down modestly from our previous estimate), leaving 1.45m iPhone units missing in action – either sitting in channel inventory or being used 'unlocked,'" Sacconaghi wrote this week.

Subtracting 480,000 units of channel inventory, Sacconaghi reckons about one million phones had been unlocked, up from a previous estimate of 750,000.

The figure represents quite the predicament for Apple.

Unlocked phones represent a significant drag on the profitability of the device. With Apple receiving $300 to $400 in carrier payments for each iPhone sold, they generate 50 per cent less revenue and up to 75 per cent less profit than normal. The 1m phones translates into as much as $400m in lost revenue.

If 30 per cent of the 10m devices Apple expects to sell in 2008 are never activated, sales are lowered by $500 million for each of the two years the carrier contract would have been in place and earnings per share declines by 37 cents.

Unlocked phones also weaken Apple's hand when negotiating terms with prospective new carriers. That's because the promise of being the exclusive network carries less weight.

At the same time, a sale is a sale. If Apple clamps down too much on unlocked phones it forgoes all the revenue it would have made selling them. And equally unappealing, it risks missing its lofty goal of selling 10m devices by the end of this year.

Apple has gone to great lengths to make it hard to unlock iPhones. Updates to patch security bugs typically re-lock the handsets. So far, hackers have managed to defeat the restrictions. Less than a week after the most recent version of the firmware was released, so-called jailbreaks that unlock the phone were circulating online. ®

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • Prisons transcribe private phone calls with inmates using speech-to-text AI

    Plus: A drug designed by machine learning algorithms to treat liver disease reaches human clinical trials and more

    In brief Prisons around the US are installing AI speech-to-text models to automatically transcribe conversations with inmates during their phone calls.

    A series of contracts and emails from eight different states revealed how Verus, an AI application developed by LEO Technologies and based on a speech-to-text system offered by Amazon, was used to eavesdrop on prisoners’ phone calls.

    In a sales pitch, LEO’s CEO James Sexton told officials working for a jail in Cook County, Illinois, that one of its customers in Calhoun County, Alabama, uses the software to protect prisons from getting sued, according to an investigation by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    Continue reading
  • Battlefield 2042: Please don't be the death knell of the franchise, please don't be the death knell of the franchise

    Another terrible launch, but DICE is already working on improvements

    The RPG Greetings, traveller, and welcome back to The Register Plays Games, our monthly gaming column. Since the last edition on New World, we hit level cap and the "endgame". Around this time, item duping exploits became rife and every attempt Amazon Games made to fix it just broke something else. The post-level 60 "watermark" system for gear drops is also infuriating and tedious, but not something we were able to address in the column. So bear these things in mind if you were ever tempted. On that note, it's time to look at another newly released shit show – Battlefield 2042.

    I wanted to love Battlefield 2042, I really did. After the bum note of the first-person shooter (FPS) franchise's return to Second World War theatres with Battlefield V (2018), I stupidly assumed the next entry from EA-owned Swedish developer DICE would be a return to form. I was wrong.

    The multiplayer military FPS market is dominated by two forces: Activision's Call of Duty (COD) series and EA's Battlefield. Fans of each franchise are loyal to the point of zealotry with little crossover between player bases. Here's where I stand: COD jumped the shark with Modern Warfare 2 in 2009. It's flip-flopped from WW2 to present-day combat and back again, tried sci-fi, and even the Battle Royale trend with the free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone (2020), which has been thoroughly ruined by hackers and developer inaction.

    Continue reading
  • American diplomats' iPhones reportedly compromised by NSO Group intrusion software

    Reuters claims nine State Department employees outside the US had their devices hacked

    The Apple iPhones of at least nine US State Department officials were compromised by an unidentified entity using NSO Group's Pegasus spyware, according to a report published Friday by Reuters.

    NSO Group in an email to The Register said it has blocked an unnamed customers' access to its system upon receiving an inquiry about the incident but has yet to confirm whether its software was involved.

    "Once the inquiry was received, and before any investigation under our compliance policy, we have decided to immediately terminate relevant customers’ access to the system, due to the severity of the allegations," an NSO spokesperson told The Register in an email. "To this point, we haven’t received any information nor the phone numbers, nor any indication that NSO’s tools were used in this case."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021