When all else fails, jailbreak.

Those who have known me for a while know that I tend to favor Apple products. My primary laptop for the longest time was a PowerBook G4. I’ve used iPods since 2003 or thereabouts. My current cell phone is an iPhone 3G; I’ve actually had it probably longer than any other cell phone. The thing I like about Apple stuff is that it generally Just Works. If I have a problem with something, the Apple knowledge base articles are pretty concise and helpful. I’ve not had a real problem with figuring something out until today, and man, it was a doozy.

When I got into work this morning, the boss asked me as a favor if I could take his wife’s old first generation iPhone and turn it into an iPod Touch. In other words, he simply wanted to use the iPhone without the cellular capability. Normally that wouldn’t be an issue, but he had wiped the iPhone and now it needed to be activated through iTunes. What worried us was whether activating through iTunes would disable his wife’s new iPhone. So, I did some research, and came across this Apple knowledge base article that said what we wanted to do is easily done, and that iTunes would happily activate the phone with the invalid SIM for use as an iPhone without cell service.

Sounds simple, right? It wasn’t.

Once I plugged the iPhone into my laptop and iTunes came up, it asked to activate through AT&T. Confused and unwilling to continue lest I mess up Kendra’s phone, I called AT&T for assistance. After explaining the situation to the tech support specialist, I got the tech support equivalent of a blank stare. She ended up transferring me to Apple, where the support tech there knew what I was asking for but didn’t have the right information for me. After talking to a supervisor, he told me I needed to talk to AT&T regarding the SIM card still in the phone (as the phone will not activate without a SIM card). After getting off the phone with him, I called AT&T back and got another tech on the phone. I explained the situation to her, but she told me that what the Apple tech said wouldn’t work. We tried going through the different options on the iTunes activation, but every route we took led to the same result: we would be deactivating the cellular service on Kendra’s phone and activating it on this one.

The AT&T tech eventually got another Apple tech on the line, and we tried different options, including even trying to activate it with MY iPhone’s SIM card in it. The iTunes activation wouldn’t even allow it to proceed on mine. Finally, the Apple tech suggested asking an AT&T store person, and the AT&T tech called the nearest store to me and found a employee who could do what I asked. I thanked them for their help, got off the phone with them, and headed over to the AT&T store. The problem would soon be dealt with.

… or so I thought. As soon as I walked in the door and handed the guy the phone, he looked at it and said, “The tech told me it was an iPhone 3G.” I said no, that I had quite clearly told her it was a firstgen one. As the tech explained, for some reason it was not possible to activate the original iPhone for non-cellular use. Only the 3G and the 3GS could be activated that way.

So, I took the phone back to the office and told the boss the sad truth: the only way we were going to be able to unlock the phone for his daughter’s use was to jailbreak it. We had wanted to do it via an “authorized” method, but that had been closed off to us. Fortunately, a quick word with a friend of mine who had more iPhone knowledge than me pointed me in the direction of blackra1n, a quick and easy jailbreak tool for the iPhone. Once the phone was successfully jailbroken, it was available for use. The boss checked it over, made sure everything was available that his daughter would need, and thanked me profusely for getting it running.

If you were to ask me where the failure here was… while I’d lay it at both Apple’s and AT&T’s feet, I’d probably lay it more at AT&T than at Apple. I don’t know how Apple looks up SIM numbers for activation, but I’m willing to bet that whenever an AT&T SIM card is entered in, it automatically tries to sell cellular service as opposed to giving the option of activating without cellular service. Apple’s blame comes from the fact that their knowledge base article didn’t make ANY mention of problems with activating without cellular service if it was formerly used on AT&T and had an AT&T SIM.

In any event, the iPhone is now operational without cellular service. Jailbreaking was a last resort as the boss and I are both people who like to stay as official with software as possible (even though I have no problems with others jailbreaking), but in the end it was the route we needed to take to get the phone up and running where the boss’s daughter could use it. Now, if only Apple and AT&T hadn’t made the process so painful in the first place…