An iTunes dialog box designed to bring a tear to an iPhone owner's eye

Tear of joy, that is.

Georg Friedrich Händel – Oratorio – Messiah, HWV 56 Part 2, No. 44 Chorus

Performed by The English Concert & Choir

  • What is this? Is it possible to unlock an iPhone through iTunes legitimately?

    • Yes, if you are lucky enough to live in a country where there are laws requiring it. This happened in Finland.

      • So can I go to Finland, download iTunes, and use that to unlock my US iPhone or does it have to be a Finnish iPhone?

      • Ah, no. It's only for phones that were issued by a carrier in that country (they use the IMEI to ID the phone). A rep from that company then enters the data which syncs with iTunes in the cloud and boom, you get this message. Sorry to raise hopes, but this is proof that unlocking is (a) possible (b) being done legitimately (c) done through iTunes. For the record, it's possible to also order an unlocked iPhone if you live in various countries (including UK, France, Canada, HK, Singapore). Restrictions apply.

        See… for prices

      • That makes sense. I was thinking about buying an unlocked one from Canada, but I decided to just use a different unlocked phone when traveling. Thanks for the advice!

  • Priit

    Ok, wait. Can you be more specific? Rep enters the data how, where, what data? Who's computer?

    • The person on the phone entered the data somewhere authorizing an unlock. I don't know what she was looking at. They needed three pieces of information:
      1. my phone number
      2. my ID number (equivalent to SSN) issued to residents
      3. my phone's IMEI number
      The first number identifies the account, the second the owner of the phone and the third confirmed that the phone was sold by them.

      Then I was asked to sync my phone with iTunes. iTunes then showed the message. That's all there is to it. Consumer protection law in Finland requires any phone sold locked to be unlocked after a contract period ends. Locking phones used to be illegal until a few years ago.

  • Paul Eccles

    Very cool but nothing unusual, unlocked iPhones are sold in many countries across the world, the UK, most of Europe, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada …

  • Just to add to Horace's comments.

    I bought an unlocked iPhone 3GS in Singapore in December 2009. You can get it at any Epicentre outlet – there are a few of them at Orchard Road.

    They don't display these unlocked iPhones prominently, so you just have to ask the sales staff.

    While still in Singapore, I activated the iPhone over iTunes, with my Malaysia-based Digi (a Malaysian telco) prepaid SIM card inserted into the device.

    There was no fuss or fanfare. iTunes reported the iPhone to be successfully activated.

    Back in Malaysia, the iPhone developed a hardware failure, and I had to bring the iPhone back to Singtel in Singapore, as I learned that these units were officially supported by this carrier, even though the unit was not originally locked to them in any way to begin with. I managed to get the unit exchanged within 10 minutes.

    My second iPhone has gone through all iOS upgrades without a hitch.

    Sometime in April 2010, when Digi officially became an authorized carrier for the iPhone in Malaysia, I even got a message over iTunes saying that I had a new update from Digi which enabled tethering via Bluetooth and USB.

    All has been good thus far. I imagine the experience would be the same with units purchased from Hong Kong.

    The only downside is that it seems you'd need to bring the iPhone back to the country of purchase for warranty claims and replacements.

  • I've just ordered an iPhone 4 through the online Apple Store in Australia (where I live). It arrives unlocked by default.

    It is possible to get an iPhone subsidised by a carrier, and it is locked to their network, but it's normally about an AU$80 fee to get it unlocked, with no protest at all from the carrier.

    I am still amazed at the backward nature of the US mobile phone marketplace.


  • Jesse Hollington

    It's worth noting that the "Your iPhone has been unlocked" message only appears if your iPhone was originally locked to begin with.

    If you're buying an unlocked phone outright, the activation process simply proceeds as normal with no extra messages indicating that it's unlocked. The difference, of course, is that it will happily work and connect up with iTunes no matter what micro-SIM card you throw at it.

    The unlocked iPhone 4 units being sold at the Apple Store in Canada are unlocked to begin with, and are only locked if you go through activation with a specific carrier. From what I understand, Apple's POS system basically assigns the IMEI to the carrier you activate with as part of the purchase process, in which case the iPhone will actually become locked as soon you activate it through iTunes.

    My educated guess is that somewhere in the bowels of Apple's Activation Servers lives a database of all of the iPhone IMEIs in the world and which carriers they're assigned to, if any. In fact, I suspect that every iPhone begins its life and ships out unlocked from the hardware side, and the mandatory iTunes activation process looks up the IMEI when the iPhone is first connected to iTunes and applies the carrier lock. Rather than leaving the factory with a specific carrier-lock, Apple merely assigns the IMEIs in their database on where they ship the iPhones to. This would certainly make inventory management much easier, particularly in those countries where multiple carriers are available.