postheadericon TECH TALK: The Pathetic State of Apple's iPhone in Nepal

Have an iPhone or thinking about getting one soon? Well, why not, as this particular smartphone from Apple is a worldwide phenomenon and has changed the way we look at and interact with mobile devices. Yet all is not perfect, or close to it, in iPhone heaven – and this short rant will tell you why...

First, I have to admit I have been a happy iPhone user for many years. A US relative sent me an iPhone 3G back when the 3Gs first came out, and I have been using his old jailbroken and unlocked device here in Nepal with both NTC and now NCELL as a carrier – to great success! No problems whatsoever, as the jailbreak and unlock was already done for me.

To digress for just a moment (for the noobs in the crowd), a jailbreak allows you to modify the iPhone (and voids all Apple warranties) and an unlock allows you to insert any carrier’s SIM card so you can make calls, and in our case, that would be with either NTC or NCELL. Since there are no “official” carriers that sell iPhones in Nepal, you (or the person selling you the iPhone) must jailbreak/unlock the iPhone to make it usable before the sale. If they don’t, the iPhone is nothing more then a nice iPod that allows you to play games as well.

It’s this jailbreak/unlocking that causes most a lot of headaches, as well as actually improving the function and features of the base iPhone as manufactured by Apple. For example, once a phone is jailbroken, you can load an application called Cydia, which is a repository for hacks and apps that make your iPhone better than the original.

One Cydia app that I really appreciate is Wi-Fi Sync by Pragmatic Consulting. Since Apple sells you a phone that must be synced with iTunes (a desktop/laptop app), and you must have a special USB cable to make this happen, it’s often a problem if you don’t have the cable handy. Well, the Wi-Fi Sync app allows you to do all that wonderful syncing with iTunes using any home WiFi connection.

There are thousands of other useful apps on Cydia that you just can’t get in the iTunes App Store, and again, they won’t even load on your iPhone unless you are off Apple’s tethered balls and chains. For example, if you want to run multiple apps at the same time, and you don’t have the new iPhone 4, you can do so with an iPhone 2, 3, or 3Gs using a Cydia app called Backgrounder – just impossible to do on a vintage AT&T/Verizon iPhone.

But being jailbroken/unlocked comes at a high cost, and Apple is not very sympathetic with any of us who live in Nepal and use a Nepali telecom. Not only is your official Apple warranty voided, you can easily “brick” your phone if you are not careful when connecting to iTunes. The reason is this: Apple updates the iPhone’s software and firmware all the time, adding features like iBooks and improving things broken in previous releases of the iPhone software. But, Apple does not support the files added during a jailbreak/unlock process, so updating via Apple iTunes could, at worst, make your Nepali-purchased iPhone a nice paperweight, or at best, force you to return your phone to your place of Nepali purchase for a complete rework or even replacement.

If you are tech savvy, which I consider myself very much so, you can upgrade your iPhone as new updates come out from Apple by going to iClarified.com and following the appropriate tutorial for your model of phone and level of firmware/software (there are about 300 tutorials there to date). But I gotta tell ya, these instructions are not intuitive at all, but instead are very terse and contain so many disclaimers and “gotchas” they can’t be easily parsed by a normal human being.

All the tutorials on iClarified are based on jailbreaking/unlocking code supplied by a group of really smart hackers called the Dev-Team (blog.iphone-dev.org), and the tools have names like redsn0w, ultrasn0w, and Pwnage. However, these tools are not to be wielded by the tech-mindless, as any one of them can easily render your phone forever inoperable. But these tuts do make it possible for an iPhone to work in an Apple-ignored country like Nepal.

I can report at least one success; as after two and ½ days of googling, re-booting, downloading, and repeatedly following obscure tuts, I successfully upgraded my old 3G iPhone (that was on version 3.1.3) to version 4.2.1, the latest and greatest update from Apple. That means that I am happily running the same apps designed for the new iPhone 4 and iPads - but it was a very very painful 36 hours.

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Jiggy Gaton
lives in Kathmandu and is an aging technologist - has been since the days of Woodstock - so in the words of Roland The Gunslinger "he is from a world now gone by." However, Jigs is extremely up-to-date on all things tech and is also available for hire.
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