Apple will sell unlocked iPhones in France next May to comply with a French law that prohibits a mobile phone from being tied to an exclusive wireless carrier for longer than six months. What will this mean for iPhone’s future?
Unlocked iPhones — that is, iPhones that have been hacked to work on any wireless carrier — are currently unauthorized by Apple because of its contracts with exclusive service providers, like AT&T in the US.
So what happens when France is the only country with unlocked iPhones? Gordon Kelly of Trusted Reviews says, “Maybe Apple feels a hacker free-for-all will follow (it will), or maybe just mass grey imports (that too) but either way – for once – it has conceded that the inevitable is inevitable.”
While it’s true that the people of France will have their hands on an item in such high demand that it could be sold en masse to us eager folk in the US, I question whether Apple would be daring enough to release a phone that could easily get to the US and compete with its exclusive wireless provider.
A truly unlocked iPhone would flood the US. Then who would be tempted to pay their service provider a termination fee just to get an iPhone? Not too many people, I’m guessing. This would, without a doubt, hurt AT&T.
Would Apple, in effect, be breaching its contracts with its exclusive iPhone providers if it sold a 100% unlocked iPhone in France? I think so.
An unlocked iPhone available worldwide would pit Apple against the carriers it signed contracts with by making the iPhone available on any network. Considering all the time Apple has spent wrangling with wireless providers from country-to-country to make deals with exclusive carriers, I don’t think Apple would be so stupid as to offer a truly unlocked iPhone that will work all over the world.
That’s why I think, somehow, Apple will configure its unlocked iPhones to function only in France. Sure, unlocked iPhones may soon go to other shores (Finland and Belgium have anti-exclusivity laws similar to France’s), but I’m predicting that they will be confined to work only in the country where they are released.
I could be wrong about this, but considering Apple is known to keep tight control of its product line, I think truly unlocked iPhones would be a rather drastic move for right now.
In the future, Apple will probably release an unlocked iPhone in the US to expand its market reach (maybe after AT&T’s 5-year exclusive hold on the iPhone?). But I wouldn’t count on hearing the news next May.