Apple: 250,000 iPhones unlocked from AT&T

Nearly 18 percent of all iPhones being used on other cell nets

Apple COO Tim Cook revealed this week that some 250,000, or about 18 percent, of all iPhones sold so far have been unlocked, so they can run on cell nets other than AT&T's.

The number is apparently the difference between the 1.4 million iPhones sold since the devices were released in June and the number of them actually using AT&T, the sole US carrier for the iPhone. And the percentage seems to have jolted users and analysts alike, who say they had guestimated that from 10 percent to 15 percent of iPhones were unshackled from AT&T.

Cook's comments were made during Apple's fourth-quarter fiscal 2007 earnings conference call Tuesday. The company reported very strong revenues and earnings: US$6.22 billion in sales, a 29 percent increase over the quarterly US$4.84 billion a year ago, and US$904 million profits, up 67 percent from a year ago. Mac desktop and laptop sales rose. The company also sold just over 10 million iPods and 1.2 million iPhones during those three months.

Cook's remarks have been picked up widely by tech bloggers and Apple-oriented Web sites. According to various online sources, Cook told analysts that these one-quarter million phones were sold to buyers who intended to unlock them at the outset. Cook also warned that Apple won't let those unlocked phones remain workable for long.

Apple has consistently made it clear it will forcefully counter all attempts to unlock the AT&T connection in iPhones. After the first bout with hackers, Apple released the systems software 1.1.1 upgrade, which disabled unlocked phones. But hackers vowed to find ways to get around that block.

But Apple, through its exclusive carrier in France, Orange, shortly will introduce there an unlocked iPhone to comply with French consumer laws.

On the applications side, Apple has taken a major step toward "unlocking" the iPhone for third-party native applications, beyond browser-based plug-ins. The company recently announced that it will release in February a software development kit to allow third-party applications to be built for the iPhone, although exactly what kind of applications these will be is still very unclear.

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