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Unlocking mobile phones is now illegal (sort of)

For the past week or so, the major buzz across the Internet has been about how it’s suddenly against the law to unlock your cell phone from whatever carrier it’s attached to before the contract runs out.  There’s been a good amount of fear-mongering and ranting about the amount of corporate influence on American law.  While I think much of the outcry has been justified, some of it hasn’t, and I’d like to take a careful look at what this announcement is and is not, and what it will mean for mobile phone users going forward.

First we need to define our terms.  Just what is “unlocking” and how is it related to “jailbreaking” or “rooting”?  “Unlocking” refers to using a code to remove a software or firmware lock in a mobile phone, allowing it to be used on more than one provider’s network. It has little to do with how the user interacts with the phone’s OS.  “Jailbreaking” refers to using software or hardware exploits to gain root access to the operating system on iOS devices.  “Rooting” is essentially the same process, except as practiced on Android devices.  They’re only related insofar as the sorts of folks who are interested in jailbreaking or rooting devices are also often the same folks who want to unlock them from specific carriers.

So now that we know what we’re talking about, let’s specify what this law doesn’t do: it does not make jailbreaking or rooting illegal.  Those processes are still exempted from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), as they have been since the Electronic Freedom Foundation won said exemptions in July 2010. However, the US Copyright Office and the Librarian of Congress began reviewing those exemptions (and others) last October, and decided that the original exemption for unlocking phones was no longer necessary, given how much easier it is for consumers to either purchase unlocked devices in the first place, or  just have their carriers unlock their phones for them. (Having worked for several mobile phone carriers, I can tell you that one of the first things they teach you is how to tell customers that “we’re sorry, we won’t unlock your phone; so sorry for the inconvenience…thanks and have a nice day!”)

Once the Copyright Office and Librarian of Congress arrived at this decision, they granted a 90-day grace period for users to get their phones unlocked.  That time ran out on Saturday.  So, what this means as of now is that only “legacy” phones are still eligible to be unlocked with no penalty.  Newly-minted phones, not so much.  After all, mobile providers are selling these phones (that are really miniature computers) for a ridiculously subsidized fee, knowing that they’ll recoup their money over the life of a 2-year contract.  If consumers were able to unlock their phones, why would they be motivated to stay with a carrier if they didn’t want to?

You’re probably not going to have Johnny Law knocking on your door if you do decide to unlock your phone before your contract runs out with your carrier.  However, you may have a little harder time finding a third-party business to help you with that unlock.  Those third-party businesses could also face civil and criminal penalties of anywhere from $200 to $500,000 for unlocking phones.  It all comes down to whether carriers intend to try to root out phones with unsanctioned unlocks – and if they do so, how aggressively.  We’ll be watching, because it’s our money too.

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Refurbished iPads are Great Deals for Consumers

I have been looking for a used iPad for my kids to share (and to stop the fighting for mine).  I looked on the typical sites like Craigslist and was shocked to see how much money some people are asking for a used iPad 2 or the new iPad.  Talk about a product that retains its value!

Beyond the cost of the device, though, there are a few other issues to think about when considering an iPad purchase from a non-retail environment like Craigslist:

  1. There is no way of knowing if there something wrong with the iPad beforehand.
  2. The owner could have the iPad as a result of theft.
  3. The person could be planning on taking your money without giving you the product, maybe even by force.
  4. The iPad could be a fake.

The above concerns inspired me to check other options. Apple has a section of its online store where users can look at refurbished iPads, which come with a full 1-year warranty from Apple. This started to look interesting considering the cost was very similar to what the people on Craigslist were asking for their used iPads.

I found out that the Apple refurbished units are actually a very good deal, because they could actually be considered better than new. A new unit goes through an assembly line whereas a refurbished iPad will get the dedicated attention of a tech who will look over the whole unit and then fix whatever was wrong. They also install a brand new battery and a new outer shell.

Basically you get a new iPad, remanufactured by a real person, for less money than a new one in a retail store.

If you are looking for a used iPad or a less expensive one, take a look at a refurbished version. For a similar price to a used one that you find on Craigslist or nolongerneedit.com you get a practically new one with warranty.

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Users Report iOS 6 WiFi Connectivity Issues

Is anyone else having connectivity issues after installing iOS 6?

After loading your iPhone or iPad with iOS 6 are you having problems staying connected to a WiFi signal?   From what I have been hearing, many users that have upgraded their iDevice to iOS 6 are having issues with their Wi-Fi.

Some people are not able to stay connected or even connect to their local WiFi and some are not even able to turn on the WiFi on the device.

There is no official word from Apple that this is a wide-spread issue, though we’ll keep our ears to the ground and let you know if a solution arises. In the meantime, try resetting your device (hold the top Sleep/Wake button and the Home button at the same time until you see the Apple logo). You can also try resetting your WiFi settings then reconnect to your network.

Have a fix not mentioned here? Let us know in the comments!

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iPad Mini Production in Brazil Rumored

Published on October 1, 2012 by in Apple, iPad, Rumors

It is with great excitement that many blogs will be posting this story — the iPad mini is now in its production cycle in Brazil. This according to Japanese blog Macotakara (via AppleInsider) which has been the source of many rumors in the past, many of which did not pan out.

The source of the rumor, a shocker, is unnamed and was not familiar with whether the units where being completely built in Brazil or in China as well. The source did, however, mention that the smaller iPad would not have a rear microphone, similar to the one found on the iPhone 5 (and widely rumored to be on the iPad mini).

For now, consumers may want to keep their pants on about the iPad mini — nothing has been mentioned in an official capacity from Apple. Stay tuned to Apple Approved and we’ll be sure to keep you informed!

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