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iPhone 3G will need 'unbricking' when purchased?

Apple and AT&T had said the iPhone 3G would have to be activated in-store at the time of purchase, but it looks like store employees will actually need to "unbrick" the phones.

This shiny new iPhone 3G might actually be an expensive brick unless activated in an authorized store. Apple

More signs are emerging that Apple is taking new steps to restrict iPhone hacking with the release of the iPhone 3G.

AppleInsider got its hands on a memo sent to AT&T retail employees that warns them to be on the lookout for a special iTunes "unbricking" utility that was supposed to be pushed to the computers of all retail employees last week. According to the memo, "this icon is for the iTunes utility that will be used for unbricking iPhone 3G devices during the activation process. ... Please note, this is not a full version of iTunes and is for use with activations ONLY. Employees should not use this software until Launch Day."

A similar memo was distributed to employees of Rogers, Canada's besieged iPhone carrier, according to a post in the forums of That memo also suggests that the iPhone 3G will need to be physically connected to the in-store computer to be activated.

We already knew that the (mostly) convenient at-home activation process that was used for last year's iPhone launch was out this time around. It appears that every iPhone 3G will have to be activated in the store at the time of purchase, and all buyers will have to sign a two-year contract to boot, before it can be taken home.

But what hasn't been clear is whether Apple has taken any additional steps beyond the activation process to deter iPhone unlocking. Since March or so, iPhone hackers have been able to get control of the iPhone by getting around the way the iPhone checks for a security certificate before loading code into the system, rather than trying to work around each firmware update as it is released.

The AT&T memos suggest that Apple is shipping the iPhone 3Gs as "bricked" devices, which brings back memories of the bricked iPhones that resulted after some folks unlocked their iPhones and then downloaded the 1.1.1 software update. It's currently possible to hack an iPhone before it's activated on a cell network and unlock it to run on a different GSM network from the one it was intended, but if the iPhone 3G ships to stores as bricked, that might not be possible.

With the release of formal iPhone applications, it's been interesting to wonder how unofficial iPhone development projects would continue. There's little doubt groups like the iPhone Dev Team will continue to build applications that Apple decides are not allowed in the App Store, but they might have an uphill battle if Apple has changed the way the iPhone 3G works.

The retail employees of both Apple and AT&T might also have an uphill battle on their hands trying to get all the iPhone 3G devices unbricked and activated on July 11, the first day the phones go on sale. Silicon Alley Insider notes a survey by RBC Capital Markets indicated that 56 percent of those looking to buy a smartphone in the next 90 days want an iPhone 3G, which is in line with what CNET readers said in our own poll earlier this year.