opinionBy Tonderai Rutsito
During this festive season, most Zimbabweans are receiving lots of goodies from their relatives and I would agree the latest cellphones have made a serious imprint in Zimbabwe. Currently, the flashiest technological gift anyone could get is the latest offing from Apple, which is the iPhone 5 or alternatively the Samsung S3 and the Lumia series from Nokia.
Apple recently unveiled their new A5 chipset-based phone for speed and processing prowess but this same feature comes with a major setback when you try to unlock the device.
When you buy your phone or import it, chances are high you will need to first unlock the phone so that it works in your home network unless it's already factory unlocked.
Unlocking a cellphone is basically the process of breaking the lock on the SIM card and allowing the phone to work with all carriers or network providers, not just the official service providers the phone is locked to, and companies like Apple-approved carriers differ from country to country. And because we do not have any service provider in Zimbabwe that locks networks to certain handsets, it will be much difficult in a layman's point of view to understand the purpose of going through all that process in the first place.
Imagine a service provider like Econet clinching a deal with Nokia, what they will need to do to maximise on their profits is to simply make the Nokia phone affordable and capitalise on the network services they offer.
In most developed countries, you simply pay for a very slick phone at a paltry figure then you sign a one or two-year contract and get unlimited internet data charges and lots of free local calls but you pay a certain fixed monthly figure over years, where the network providers will recuperate the costs.
This will then simply translate to a fixed income generated from a known number of clients and should you think of using another local network service provider, that phone will not allow you to do so till it's unlocked.
This then means both the phone manufacturer and the service providers are the biggest beneficiaries of such arrangements.
This will mean that most users will be forced to just stick to their initial choices and heavily discouraged from transferring to other service providers besides the restrictions, most of these developed countries will make you have the mobile phone for free for simply agreeing into a one or two-year usage contract hence the user will be encouraged to stick to that network.
The issue becomes a completely different story once our beloved Diasporans bring us these gadgets as presents to Zimbabwe or even when you buy your phone from any European, Asian or American country, the phone will be locked to one of the local networks.
Phone unlocking expert in Harare, Ernest Bvunzawabaya, said that it was even much more expensive to try and unlock most of these phones especially iPhones from any other country except those from the European countries, which are usually locked to Virgin and Orange networks.
"Unlocking an iPhone is done using their remote server and the country which your phone is locked to determines the price as some service providers will charge you much more to move out of their network especially Asian and American networks."
He added that it costs above US$120 to unlock most of the latest iPhones but the ex-UK phones are quite prevalent and are locked to much cheaper networks. Currently, an iPhone 5 is going at a whopping US$1 500 plus/minus in Zimbabwe, against the US$800 range in other countries.
The selling price of each device that Apple puts on the market nearly every year largely depends a lot on the mobile phone network which sells it.
Because of such agreements, buying a factory unlocked iPhone in UK will be much more expensive compared to buying a locked one, so the difference in pricing should make sense at this stage.
Recently in the US, unlocking a cellphone was officially legalised due to the necessity of such a process but obviously the phone manufacturer will not be happy about such a bill, but for users, that's a milestone! Personally, I strongly feel it would be disastrous to make unlocking illegal because it's a technological victory but not without another serious hurdle as just before your iPhone is usable, you may need to go through a process called jailbreaking.
Jailbreaking and unlocking an iPhone are often confused with each other but these are two different things. When you buy your iPhone, factory or manually unlocked, Apple will not allow you to use any third party applications on it and confines you to either buy or install the free applications via its application store. Apple restricts some basic capabilities that other cellphones offer including recording video, custom ringtones, photo zoom and the ability to change the look and feel (including icons).
Jailbreaking an iPhone is the process where you bypass these limitations by installing certain software that will boot up your phone with a new application manager like Cydia.
This allows users to take advantage of third-party applications. Specifically, third-party applications that Apple has declined to distribute through the App Store because they're deemed "objectionable, risqué or duplicative" among other reasons.
The app store will also need a valid apple account to be created though at a very paltry charge.
Most Zimbabweans find this a hindrance even buying the popular 99 cents apps since we do not really have lots of options when buying or making online payments.
Recently, Zimbabwe was listed among the PayPal compliant countries and Visa cards can also be used to make such payments directly from Zimbabwe.
This scenario probably out of ignorance, has led to a few phone unlocking experts in Zimbabwe making a fortune as they seem to be the only solution to thousands of desperate users faced with such problems.
These programs are instead distributed by the developer (usually to avoid the distribution fee charged by Apple should you ask them to distribute your app unless you do not mind it flying under the free apps tag.
Ernest Bvunzawabya said after "jailbreaking, users are able to install unauthorised third-party applications, often through an unofficial download app called Cydia, yet most users choose to jailbreak their handsets in order to install pirated copies of paid-for applications without an Apple account, many do it simply to use features and software that Apple refuse to allow on the device for one reason or another."
Reports say Apple claims that such restrictions help to protect its users from malware and scam programs, something rival operating system, Android struggles with.
Power users, however, claim that it has more to do with ensuring that all app purchases go through Apple's App Store, netting the company a third of all cash generated.
Since 2007, Apple has launched its brands on various operating system platforms called the iOS and ever since, all of the highly protected operating systems have been cracked or jailbroken but not until the new iOS 6,0 which came with the new iPhone 5.
A group of known jailbreaking hackers normally crack the iOS from few days or weeks after its release and the world's most popular jailbreaking community known as the "dev teams" have finally been coming public, confirming how difficult it now is to jailbreak the iOS 6.x version.
One renowned hacker known as @Pod2g, recently announced on Twitter that the jailbreak would come but has become much more difficult to do at a timely speed.
Another power house, Mr Stefan Esser known as @i0n1c added his voice to that when he announced that "there must have been some change of guard at Apple iOS 6 as apple adds tougher protection".
Coming from someone who came up with the untethered jailbreak for iOS 4.3.2, as reported by iClarified.
As well being responsible for the jailbreak for the iPad 3 on the iOS 5.1 @i0n1c certainly knows what he's talking about. The new guard referred to by Mr Esser is probably in connection with iOS chief Scott Forstall who recently received his marching orders and was replaced by Craig Ferenghi, who seems to have a no nonsense attitude towards jailbreaking. Bvunzawabaya said we have been waiting for a long time for the jailbreak to start unlocking iO6.0 but this will mean jailbreaking your A5 or A6 iOS 6 devices may take some time and users should completely avoid updating to the new iOS 6.1 being currently advertised on the iTunes platform as it will be much more difficult to jailbreak.
Recently, Twitter was awash with news that a hacker, DreamJB, has finally cracked the i06 and he got more than 200 000 people following him in one week only to then announce that it was just a hoax and he personally warned users not to install or buy any apps outside the prominent and accepted "dev teams".