Several weeks ago, George Hotz, a 17-year-old student at the Rochester Institute of Technology, achieved cult status among hackers by being the first to unlock the iPhone from the AT&T network. Hotz has since gathered a windfall of fame and fortune, trading away his second unlocked iPhone for three other iPhones and a 350z, a car valued at more than $35,000. He has also been given interviews for CNN, MSNBC and scores of newspapers.
Hotz and a group of undisclosed confederates used a combination of hardware and software hacks in order to use his T-Mobile network on his personal iPhone, removing the exclusive AT&T network. Hotz has said that his actions are completely legal, protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which protects phone “unlocks,” or removing a phone’s original carrier to switch to another carrier for personal use.
Many critics have pointed out that what Hotz has done was not special, if legal, as even he admits that a layman “with an extensive knowledge of soldering” would need only 10 hours to unlock an iPhone.
“Apple has nothing to fear,” one pundit claimed. “The people that will do this are a very small minority of iPhone owners.” Even Hotz questions the fame he has received. On his YouTube video where he first released the news of his unlocked iPhone, he states a desire to see a full software unlock, seeing his as only a middleground to an eventual end.
When asked why his complicated unlock has gathered more attention than the full unlock for the Blackberry last year, Hotz said, “Sure, the iPhone may be special, but I think the fame had to do more with me.” He believed it was his age and his previous projects, including a 3D projector, which earned him a spot on CNN and a $20,000 prize just last year, that got his iPhone hack extra attention.
When questioned about his obsession, Hotz admittted to woking 500 hours, or eight hours a day for the entire summer, in order to achieve his goal. “That’s how I work,” he says. “I ignore everything else.” Hotz has already moved on to other projects, satisfied by the quiet release of the full software unlock.
On Sept. 11. of this year, Hotz posted a final message on his iPhone blog. “I finally feel like the iPhone can be laid to rest, now that I’ve seen a software unlock with my own eyes,” he said. “It’s been a great trip.” Hotz’s next project, an open source GPS system, is already well in the works.