Using iPhone without phone service


Q: I bought an iPhone but had to deactivate it because I had to get a BlackBerry for work (I am still in mourning). So now I just want my beloved iPhone to act as a regular iPod but iTunes insists that I sign up for AT&T before I can sync it with iTunes. I need to bypass that but it won’t let me. I love my iPhone and would be disappointed if I had to start over and buy a new iPod now. Do you know how I can get my iPhone to stop wanting to be a phone and just be a nice iPod? It’s a first generation, but the Apple Store wiped it clean tonight and installed the latest software.

– Dave

A: The solution in this case is to “jailbreak” your iPhone to bypass the activation requirement. This was frequently done with the first-generation iPhone by users outside of the United States where the iPhone was not otherwise available to them. Many of these users also “unlocked” the iPhone to use with other cellular carriers, however the “unlocking” process is distinct from the “jailbreaking” process (although there are tools available that can perform both functions in a single step).

“Jailbreaking” simply refers to the process of opening the iPhone operating system to allow access into the iPhone OS by the end-user and by numerous third-party applications available outside of the iTunes App Store. Unlike unlocking an iPhone to use on another carrier, the process of jailbreaking is completely reversible since it only involves software-based changes. Simply connecting the iPhone to iTunes and doing a full “Restore” operation on it will restore the original iPhone firmware and return it to normal operation (again requiring AT&T activation to be used).

To jailbreak an iPhone with the newer firmware versions, search for a tool called “PWNAGE” (Mac) or “WINPWN” (Windows), which will allow you to update your iPhone with a custom firmware version that does not require the iTunes-based activation. Once you have “jailbroken” your iPhone, you can continue to use it with iTunes in much the same way as you would be able to use an iPod touch, and iTunes itself should neither know nor care that you have jailbroken your iPhone in this manner.

Note that jailbreaking technically voids your iPhone warranty, and the other catch is that you will not be able to update your iPhone immediately when new firmware versions come out through iTunes. Instead you will need to wait for the Pwnage/Winpwn software to be updated for the new firmware versions.


Jesse Hollington

Jesse Hollington was a Senior Editor at iLounge. He's written about Apple technology for nearly a decade and had been covering the industry since the early days of iLounge. In his role at iLounge, he provided daily news coverage, wrote and edited features and reviews, and was responsible for the overall quality of the site's content.