Q: Do you have to get the two year contract for the iPhone? Could you simply purchase the iPhone and use it as an iPod/iPod video or even with wifi? I’m pleased with my phone and plan but I love the widescreen of the iPhone so I was wondering if I could get it to use just as a widescreen video iPod?
A: There are really two answers to this question: The official answer as to what you can do with the product, and the answer as to what you can do if you’re comfortable with working outside of the normal rules of its operation.
The official answer is that you cannot use the iPhone without an AT&T activation. When the iPhone is originally taken out of the box, it will not function in any way until it is connected to iTunes and activated. The iTunes activation sequence first takes you through a process by which you sign up for an AT&T service plan (or upgrade your existing AT&T plan onto the iPhone).
Until this process is completed, the iPhone is basically a non-functioning brick.
The normal sign-up process will require a two-year contract, although there have been reports that those who do not qualify for a two-year contract may be offered a deposit-based or pre-paid option. Regardless of this, however, the iPhone does not function even as an iPod until such time as the AT&T activation process has been completed via iTunes.
That having been said, tools are now appearing on the Internet to attempt to bypass this process, and they appear to work quite successfully in terms of activating the iPhone to be used without phone service.
Note that as of this writing, nobody has successfully unlocked the iPhone to use its phone services with a carrier other than AT&T, and it is not known when or if anybody is going to be able to accomplish this.
What the current activation “hacks” do is to essentially enable the non-phone-related features of the iPhone, including the iPod functionality and the WiFi capabilities, making it usable as an iPod and a wireless device within range of a WiFi access point or hotspot.
It must be noted, however, that the use of such tools is not in any way supported by Apple, and in fact may even violate certain license agreement terms or invalidate the iPhone warranty, so one should proceed with extreme caution when contemplating using such tools.
Note that while Apple does not disclose any information regarding upcoming products, there is a strong possibility that a next-generation dedicated iPod device is going to be released within the next several months, and may very well incorporate many of the iPod interface features that were introduced with the iPhone.