Apple: 250,000 iPhones bought to unlock

It's sort of a mushy number, but Apple said Monday that it thinks 250,000 of the 1.4 million iPhones sold so far were bought with the intention of unlocking them from AT&T's network.

Tom Krazit Former Staff writer, CNET News
Tom Krazit writes about the ever-expanding world of Google, as the most prominent company on the Internet defends its search juggernaut while expanding into nearly anything it thinks possible. He has previously written about Apple, the traditional PC industry, and chip companies. E-mail Tom.
Tom Krazit
2 min read

Throughout all the hoopla over the hacking of the iPhone, it was never very clear how many people were actually trying to escape from AT&T. Apple ventured a guess on Monday.

During a conference call to discuss the company's blowout fourth quarter, Apple Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook said that of the 1.4 million iPhones sold since June 29, 250,000 were bought with unlocking in mind.

As many as 250,000 iPhones might have been bought last quarter and unlocked, Apple said Monday. CNET Networks

"Where we don't know precisely how many people are doing that, our current guess is there were probably 250,000 of the 1.4 million that we sold where people had bought them with the intention of doing that," Cook said, or actually volunteered: no one asked him that specific question.

There are now several reports out that suggest the 250,000 is a firm number of unlocked iPhones in the wild, but that's not exactly what Cook said. An Apple representative said Tuesday that Cook's comments were just an estimate of unlocked iPhones, although it does appear to be a pretty damn good estimate.

AT&T had its own earnings conference call earlier Tuesday, and Bloomberg reported that the carrier said it has activated 1.1 million iPhones to date, which could suggest that as many as 300,000 iPhones might be destined for other cellular networks. Some of that difference can be chalked up to units in transit as the quarter ended on September 29, or iPhones that were bought at the very end of the quarter and activated at the very beginning of the next. Of course, it's also very possible to unlock an iPhone without going through the registration and activation process with both Apple and AT&T, disappearing off the radar screen.

As discussed at length, Apple is unlikely to stand idly by and let users unlock their iPhones. Peter Oppenheimer, the company's CFO, confirmed the obvious on Monday, that Apple doesn't receive any payments from AT&T under their revenue-sharing agreement for iPhones that aren't running on the AT&T network.

Many of the iPhones counted in Cook's estimate were sold after Apple cut the price of the device by $200, he said. So not only did Apple miss out on the higher profit on those iPhones, it's also losing the ongoing revenue from AT&T's data services. Now that several of the iPhone hacking groups have figured out a way around the 1.1.1 software update, which bricked many of the early unlocked phones, Apple likely has another software update waiting in the wings.