Tim Cook Forces AT&T To Unlock Customer’s Phone


Given how secretive Apple is,
"Can even my divine intervention get AT&T to unlock your iPhone? Let me meditate upon it."


Dealing with customer service representatives can be one of the world’s most torturous experiences. Apple isn’t perfect, but they usually give customers the best experience possible, no matter. Proving that point, earlier today a story surfaced of Tim Cook stepping in and forcing AT&T to make a special exception to a request the deny to most customers.

The customer in question was reassigned to Canada and decided that he wants to take his iPhone 3GS with him to use on a Canadian pay-as-you-go carrier. His contract with AT&T had been up, so he figured they would be willing to unlock his phone for him. AT&T refused to unlock the device and told the customer to go ask Apple to do. Apple then told the customer that only AT&T had the authority to unlock his phone. So back to AT&T he went, only to be told “no” again with the added advice that he should just jailbreak his iPhone.

In a wave of understandable frustration the customer sent an email over to Tim Cook who has kept up Steve Jobs’ habit of replying to customer emails. The customer never got a personal reply from Cook, but a response did come from AT&T Parternship Operations who informed him that Cook saw his email and requested the carrier to unlock the iPhone. The customer was told they were making special exception to unlock his iPhone. One of Tim Cook’s assistants even called to followup that AT&T had done their master’s bidding.

Here’s his full email to Tim Cook:

Hi Tim,

My family is immersed in the Apple brand. All 4 of my children (aged 2 to 8) have been using iPod touches, iPhones, iPads, and iMacs since they were a year old. Our television is a 27” iMac using eyeTV. My kids talk to their grandmother every second day via video Skype on the iMac. All of our computers are Macs (we have 4 in the house). Apple has touched every aspect of our lives and made it richer!

My company recently moved me to Canada for a work assignment for a few years. My wife’s iPhone 3GS had finished its contract with AT&T so I bought her an iPhone 4 the day we moved to Canada. I took her iPhone 3GS and I contacted AT&T to see if I could have it unlocked so that I could use the phone with a Canadian carrier with a “pay as you go” plan for casual use (I’m forced to use a Blackberry for work, but I hate it so I’d like to use the iPhone for phone calls). This is where my problems began.

Basically AT&T told me that they couldn’t unlock it, only Apple could. I called Apple (but was routed through Apple Canada) and they told me “ask to talk to a supervisor at AT&T because the customer service rep won’t know the process, but AT&T definitely can unlock it”. So I called them back and the supervisor was adamant that they couldn’t help me. “Just jailbreak your phone” was their advice.

I didn’t want to jailbreak my phone, I like Apple’s curated experience and I don’t want to stray from that. However after several more calls to both AT&T and Apple, I made no progress. So I’m turning to you for a final plea.

I love Apple and will continue to buy your products regardless of what happens with this situation. However, I did pay $600 some odd dollars for this device (even though I bought it on contact and they say its subsidized, I’m basically paying for the device in my monthly payments) and I’d like to be able to use it.

My thanks to the Apple team, keep innovating!

[via 9to5Mac]

  • Christopher Clancy

    All phones out of contract should be able to be unlocked. They are bought and paid for. This is just their way of trying to force you to stay with AT&T. It’s B.S.

  • QJeremiah

    What is it with that AT&T, are they…Hell?
    I’ve understood that our Telia can be a bit…uptight sometimes, but that seems just like a faint breeze compared to AT&T
    In Sweden we call that type of company “Concreteasses” – maybe a term to pick up?

  • Jdsonice

    This is good. There is still hope for us poor sobs who are on AT&T. Maybe Mr. Cook can make AT&T unlock the phones that are out of contract for everyone.

  • Jdsonice

    I thought that at one point AT&T lost the case and had to do this. But no, when I went to the AT&T store they told me that they would unlock every other phone except iPhone. I wonder why?

  • tv_gadget

    Tim Cook FTW!!

  • En_joy

    It’s ultimately the guy’s company’s fault for forcing their employees to use Shitberries.

  • AuthorOfThings

    I’m not a big fan of AT&T, wishing I could use Verizon instead. The service at AT&T is slow and aggravating. *sigh*

  • Andy Murdock

    Tim Cook has been and continues to be a great CEO!!!

  • Will Swigart

    How about we file a class action suit to force AT&T to unlock any/all phones on the day following the contract expiration date!? Seems to me to be the right thing that should happen regardless.

  • asura

    I had asked AT&T to unlock my original iPhone when I bought my 3GS, but was told the same thing by both AT&T and Apple.  At that time, AT&T advised me that the phone was considered a “mulitmedia device”, and as such, they were under no obligation to unlock the phone…

  • Fabio

    I completely agree, we need to file a class action suit against AT&T. These large corporation are taking advantage of consumers by not unlocking our iPhones. If I moved to Canada that means I would be forced to purchase a new phone just because AT&T won’t unlock it for me.

    That’s unacceptable, because I have already paid for the device and also the contract is over as well!

  • MySkyizBlue

    Incidents like this is exactly why Im moving to Verizon
    Im just waiting for the option to talk and surf at the same time to be available.
    thats honestly the only reason Im with AT&T right now

  • Fabio

    I don’t understand how AT&T has so many subscribers. AT&T is the most least consumer friendly wireless company out there.  Refusing to unlock an iPhone after the 2 year contract commitment is over, is simply UNACCEPTABLE.

    Why hasn’t the FCC or the U.S government done anything to address this issue. A carrier should be FORCED to unlock the handset. If you give TOO much freedom to a company, they WILL take advantage of the consumers.

  • tornacious

    This guy is a picture perfect example of how to deal with customer support folks. He’s all positive and showing his brand loyalty. Ultimately this is what led to the kind response by Apple. We can all learn a lot from this!

  • rockarollr

    Absolutely! AT&T is a perfect example of what happens when a company is given too much leeway and not enough regulation in the USA. I should know – I am currently an AT&T customer, but I intend to change that at the very next opportunity.

    There should be an FCC regulation that states that when the initial contract (that subsidizes the phone) is up, the phone should be unlocked, no questions asked, at the customer’s request. Anything short of that should be made to be illegal.

    I am in complete agreement and “second” everything you said!

  • Dinnie Lim

    Tim Cook is kind of awesome. Also, this customer’s email is pretty much the ideal of every company. He stated his brand loyalty and asked for assistance. No whining or “I swear I will stop using Apple products if you don’t help me”. No wonder he got what he wanted.

  • Phil

    So what should Apple do with AT&T? Well Apple has almost 100bil… Buy AT&T and the hell with their bull shit!

  • zviivz

    Crap! I just found out that att iphone can’t be unlocked! What a stupid policy. I’m definitely moving out after I’m done with this contract. 

  • Brandon Dillon

    What does AT&T do to unlock it? I’m 99% sure it’s just a software modification, and if so, via jailbreaking, you could have the iPhone upload a keylogger or screen recorder upon connection and work like the Conficker Worm to constantly search for network connections to establish a miniature botnet (assuming that the computers are unnetworked, which I doubt), and the information could be retrieved that way.

    Highly illegal? Absolutely. But if they unlock it the way I think they do, all it takes is for one individual to do this, and then retrieve the data and then the world is one torrent away from AT&T’s official unlocking software/process.

    I have no sympathy whatsoever for that company, and I hope they go down. I’m surprised anon hasn’t put a target on them.

  • firth

    we moved to Canada before our contract with AT&T was up so we had to pay $250 each to get out of our contract AND then new iphones– because AT&T wouldn’t unlock them!!  I have spent 1.5 hrs with AT&T on 4 separate occasions trying to make some progress on this situation–it just gets worse.  I can’t understand why a company like Apple with such great customer service wants to be connected with AT&T..