New Jersey Teen Says He Hacked iPhone

A 17-year-old claims he has found a way to unlock the iPhone's exclusive ties to AT&T's wireless network and use the phone on T-Mobile's network instead. The New Jersey teen says it was a complicated process and he collaborated with four other people to hack the phone.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

For the last two months, hackers all over the world have set their sights on the iPhone. It drove a lot of people nuts that Apple's latest gadget only works with AT&T cell phone service. And that is no longer the case. This week, a 17-year-old computer hobbyist in New Jersey made his iPhone work with another wireless carrier.

NPR's Adam Davidson visited him today.

ADAM DAVIDSON: George Hotz is the first to admit that his method of unlocking the iPhone is not particularly easy.

Mr. GEORGE HOTZ (New Jersey resident): Probably right now, if I sat down with a new iPhone, it would take me one to two hours. But for a person who isn't familiar with the steps, it'll take a good amount of time. But when it's done, it's worth it.

DAVIDSON: You have to pry open the back of the iPhone. Hotz recommends using a guitar pick. Then you find this one, tiny, little wire and scrape it away without damaging any other wires. It's complicated and it's easy to mess it up and destroy the phone. But once you do all that, you, unlike just about anyone else, have an iPhone that you can take almost anywhere in the world and use local cell phone service. Since Hotz is the guy who figured all this out, he is getting tons of e-mails, asking the same question over and over.

Mr. HOTZ: This guy is saying, why don't you open an e-Bay business in which people send you their iPhone and you unlock it for a fixed rate? It's never anything I want to do.

DAVIDSON: Hotz posted all the instructions for free on his blog. He says information should be free. And he is quick to point out that he didn't unlock the iPhone alone. He was part of an online group of hackers, all doing their own experiments and solving each other's problems. It was an open group. Anyone could join or listen in.

Mr. HOTZ: I split away from another team, who was also working on the unlock, exactly because they didn't want to make their information publicly available. Like, they wanted to keep it in the group and then release it at the end when they were done.

DAVIDSON: Hotz says now that he's hacked the iPhone, he wants to move on to the next project, some new challenge. He doesn't particularly care if he has messed with the carefully constructed business plans of Apple and AT&T, although he thought it was funny when he heard a rumor that Steve Jobs is mad at him.

Mr. HOTZ: I want Steve Jobs to call me. We could talk about this man-to-man.

DAVIDSON: It's possible that Hotz' hack will help Apple by making the iPhone more attractive to people who don't subscribe to AT&T, especially people outside of the U.S. Apple and AT&T declined NPR's request for comment. Hotz' parents, Marie and George, say they don't know much about the larger implications of their son's work. They're just proud of him. They say he's been tinkering with electronic gadgets since infancy. Marie says she has contributed a bit to the project.

Ms. MARIE HOTZ: I made the pizzas, yeah, because sometimes he was really glued to his computer and his phone and very involved. So, yes, I did bring his food up to his room.

DAVIDSON: Earlier this afternoon in their Glen Rock, New Jersey home, the family was distracted. They're packing. Hotz is off to his first day of college tomorrow.

Adam Davidson, NPR News.

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