iPhone – SIM = iBrick

Now that I’m out of contract with my iPhone, I’ve switched my account to something more reasonably priced whilst I wait for a new handset/phone operating system combination to grab my attention.  At the same time, my work e-mail was switched over to an ActiveSync service and I wanted a 3G handset for that so I’ve “donated” my iPhone to business use for a few months.

I soon got fed up of activating the phone (via iTunes) every time I switched SIMs between home and work (I don’t use my work number at weekends and when I’m on holiday), so I redirected my personal number to my work number.  Everything was good - I listened to a few podcasts on the drive to work, made some calls, connected to my e-mail service, got back in the car (listened to some more podcasts) and drove to meet a partner at their offices – but then my iPhone decided that it had a new SIM (it didn’t) and that it needed to be connected to iTunes.  That caused a few problems:

  1. I don’t have iTunes on my work PC (and nor should I have).
  2. I don’t have an iPhone/iPod sync cable with me.
  3. I’m working away from home… and I’m not going to drive for up to 2 hours in either direction just to get my smartphone working.

It doesn’t take took much imagination to work out that an iPhone that doesn’t make calls is not a very good phone.  And it turns out that it’s not really a very good “anything” because, as I drove to the hotel this evening, I found a number of other things that an iPhone without a SIM is useless for:

  • It couldn’t work as a camera to take pictures in the late-afternoon winter sunshine.
  • It couldn’t work as a GPS/sat-nav device for helping me from the office to the hotel… resulting in a 30 minute drive around Reading using my sense of direction and the setting sun as a compass whilst avoiding the city centre and the motorway…
  • It couldn’t work as a music player to provide entertainment on the drive.
  • It couldn’t let me access my e-mail (not even over Wi-Fi) when the hotel had failed to read my reservation details correctly.

In short: an iPhone minus its SIM might as well be an iBrick – far from the device Apple described back in 2007 (a mobile phone, iPod and Internet device), it’s a useless piece of electronic hardware.  And, just to be clear, this is an offocially unlocked iPhone (i.e. unlocked by my carrier) that has not been “jailbroken”.

The madness of this situation is that it doesn’t have to be this way - Apple’s stranglehold on iPhone activation is just part of the way in which they control the iPhone ecosystem but they seem to miss the point of having a Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) – i.e. that it’s the SIM that is supposed to control my identity and make it transferable between devices.  No other phone that I’ve used has needed to be activated using software once it has a SIM installed – it checks with the network if my details are valid and, if they are, I can make calls.  Simple!

A phone that doesn’t work is pretty useless as a business tool – even if it’s a phone as remarkable as the iPhone was when it launched a couple of years ago (in my opinion, Apple has squandered the lead it had over everything else in the market). The fact that it’s not possible to simply insert a valid SIM and boot up the device is just one reason why the iPhone is not an enterprise product, although plenty of companies will be forced to support them by VIPs wielding enough power to override IT policies (just as we saw with Blackberry devices a few years ago).  Thankfully a colleague is going to bring a sync cable with him tomorrow so I can (hopefully) get the thing working again in the morning – but I won’t be trusting my iPhone next time I travel long distance.

4 thoughts on “iPhone – SIM = iBrick


  1. You may recall my iPhone refused to play ball just before our narrowboat weekend a couple of years ago. It’s been fine ever since.

    A friend got a 3GS which insisted it had an invalid SIM and refused to even request activation.

    Sometimes they are a bit temperamental.

    No other phone that I’ve used has needed to be activated using software once it has a SIM installed

    Same here, and it’s very out of character, especially given the complete lack of copy activation on Apple software, including the OS and the i-range of applications.

    in my opinion, Apple has squandered the lead it had over everything else in the market

    I think it’s too early to tell whether they’ve squandered their lead. After all, they do still have a significant lead, even though a lot of other manufacturers have emulated the iPhone’s style and functionality (and lawsuits have bounced back and forth).

    I will reserve judgement on what they’ve done with their lead until the highly-anticipated iPhone 4.0 is released!


  2. @Alex

    “Sometimes they are a bit temperamental”

    Computers, heh! Still not exactly what I’d expect from a premium device :-(

    Just to pick up on my comment about Apple squandering their lead: When the iPhone launched, it was like nothing else on the market – it had some issues (it was a v1.0 product, after all) but everything else was an “also ran”; 2-and-a-bit years later (in the UK, nearer 3 in the US) and we’ve seen very little in the way of innovation, despite now being on iPhone OS 3.x; maybe the next iPhone will be great but we don’t know, because Apple doesn’t talk about roadmaps.

    (Do they really have a significant lead? I know they do in the US, but what about Asia? I thought I heard that Nokia and Blackberry are still way ahead in Europe but I don’t have any reliable figures to share here – even so it’s probably fair to say that a lot of the numbers that Apple quotes are US-based).


  3. I just discovered that, if I remove the unrecognised SIM, I can still use the device as an iPod, etc… it’s just not any good for anything that needs a cellular connection…

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