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June 24, 2009

My iPhone upgrade dilemma

Posted: 11:04 AM ET

I purchased my 1st-generation iPhone on eBay in 2008. For a hefty $250 price tag I received a bundle of electronics that was outdated and no longer protected by Apple's famous warranty, but it was all mine.

What should I do?

My iPhone came with no contractual obligations to AT&T, nor could Apple threaten to revoke its non-existent warranty if I chose to unlock or jailbreak the device. Despite what corporate lawyers attempting to stretch the authority of the The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (pdf) may argue, that phone and all its antiquated chips and transistors belonged to me.

It is now 2009 and Apple is once again tempting me with the release of the iPhone 3GS, but at $199 is it really a bargain?

New iPhones are locked into a service agreement with AT&T because of the subsidies AT&T provides for the sale of each phone. But even after these service contracts expire, essentially ending a rent-to-own agreement, iPhones remain locked to AT&T. It's as if you bought a TV that only works if you subscribe to Comcast.

There are programs to unlock the iPhone (software is not yet available to unlock the 3GS, but unlocked phones can be purchased on eBay), and unlocking a phone was granted a legal exemption from the DMCA, but Apple opposes these hacks (pdf) and counters them with each new version of iPhone software.

I enjoy my iPhone, but I do not approve of Apple's attempt to control the device after the point of sale. While I would like to trade in my 1st-generation 4GB iPhone for a shiny new 3GS, I am hesitant to sign a two-year contract that dictates how I will use my phone.

Should I trust that hackers such as those at will remain one step ahead of Apple's locking mechanisms and purchase an expensive contract-free iPhone 3Gs on eBay? Or should I overcome my moral objections and play by Apple's rules? Your thoughts?

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Filed under: Apple • DRM • iPhone

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