Two weeks after Apple released its revolutionary iPhone, it appears that Israelis won't even get a taste of the personal computer maker's first mobile phone even when the second version is launched. So leave it to local hackers to try to move up the timetable. Disappointed over the anticipated delay and aware of the complicated deal attached to purchasing the iPhone in which Apple gave American service provider AT&T Wireless exclusive rights to distribution and operation, Israeli hackers, competitor companies and local Mac fans are working overtime to come up with iPhone alternatives and imitations. It's no secret that Apple's products are late to enter the Israeli tech-oriented market even if it's not clear what came first: low interest from Israeli customers or a non-friendly operating system for Hebrew speakers. But the latest slight has left local tech-lovers especially disappointed.
Mac, meet Israel
Nonetheless, Israeli hackers and Mac fans do not give up so easily; if the iPhone does not come to us in this advanced technology age, they say, we will find our own solutions.
And they have.
"Today, every cellular phone company has an iPhone-like device. Apple launched a phone with a relatively big hard-disk so all the rest of the companies hurried and launched something similar that will function almost like the iPhone functions," says "H," an Israeli programmer who is waiting, like many others, to get his hands on the iPhone.
In the meantime, "H" has followed the latest trend among those yearning for the iPhone who live outside the US - where the iPhone is now marketed exclusively - he copied the iPhone's user interface and adapted it to his new cellular phone to look and function like an iPhone.
"Mac's computers and products in general don't have a large variety of software but their user interface is friendly, they are nice to look at and above all they are cool. This is why so many people want to crack it and to create a similar user interface so they can use as much as software as they want with the Mac-friendly user interface," he says.
Since the iPod's launch, mainly American, but also several Europeans hackers, are working on unlocking the handset. Unlocking the iPhone would mean users could use the handset with service providers other than AT&T by using their own SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) card.
Only a few days after the release, hackers succeeded in cracking the iPhone's activation process without using Apple's music store and brand, iTunes. That means that the iPhone's iPod (Music Player) and Wi-Fi features can be used, but the phone capabilities are still unavailable.
To fight this widening trend of mock iPhones and to slow the hackers' efforts to unlock the device, Apple has raided the Net and launched a war of its own - the war of deleting tips, suggestions and links to Web sites that guide Net surfers on how to unlock their iPhones or to make their mobile look and feel like one.
Israeli hackers believe Apple probably expected that its new phone would be cracked and unlocked soon after its release, so more difficulties are expected to be raised for potential raiders along the way whenever a non-AT&T-customer tries to update the device's programs via Apple's Web site.
Should a local manage to crack the device's phone feature, for the time being only Cellcom has the technology to support the iPhone's features in Israel since the company operates on GSM (Global System for Mobile Communication) and transfers data on EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution). Cellcom, however, refuses to comment on the subject as long as the device is not marketed here
Indeed, local cellular operators appear to be in no hurry to get in on the iPhone action as the technology that supports the iPhone is relatively old and cannot provide, for example, 3G (Third-Generation) services and, therefore, might bite into potential profits.
Rumors have it that the iPhone will be launched next in Germany, England and France with the rest of the world following - probably also via one exclusive service provider in each country.
Nevertheless, one local technology reporter believes it is still too soon to stir up the fight over distribution rights.
"Apple does not consider Israel a market," says Roi Shlomi, a technology reporter for Yediot Aharonot. "Considering us a market means establishing here a customer service department, technology support department, opening an on-line music store - even in English - providing warranty services and, most important, 'converting' the iPhone's operating system into the local language, Hebrew - as many other technology companies have already done before and have prospered here, in the Holy Land."
Even if the pessimistic attitude is justified and the iPhone does not arrive in Israel in the next year, sources say that businessman Hemmi Peres, managing partner at Pitango Venture Capital Fund and son of President Shimon Peres, is negotiating to purchase the device's distribution rights. His assistant, however, refused to confirm the report.
"iPhone will be available in Europe in late 2007 and this is the time we would be looking to address such questions," Alan Hely, Apple's head of media relations to Europe, the Middle East and Africa told The Jerusalem Post when asked when the iPhone would be exported to Israel and how the company viewed the Israeli market.
Meanwhile, Apple's decision to restrict the new phone to just one service provider continues to baffle observers and, despite an extraordinary worldwide marketing campaign, no explanation was received from Apple regarding the move.
Specialists speculate that AT&T financed large amount of the money that was invested in developing this handset.
The only vague explanation, was given to The Wall Street Journal by Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who said that AT&T had "been investing billions of dollars in the last couple of years to create a great (GSM) network." He elegantly ducked the question of whether iPhone owners would ever be able to use other American service providers.
Disappointed hackers have been expressing their dissatisfaction with Apple all over the Net.
"We just want to see the hardware freedâ€¦ hopefully it will be a lesson to Apple," said GJ, an American hacker, on IDG News Service. "They're such a great company, it's a real shame for them to lock everything down like this. The design is top notch. They would win far more business by setting an example for the industry."
What's so special about the iPhone?
The iPhone, with a height of 115mm, width of 61mm and weight of 135 grams, is essentially three devices in one handset: a smart mobile phone, a 4- or 8-gigabyte iPod music player and a portable Internet device that displays Web pages as they appear on a regular computer - unlike other smart mobiles.
It also has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth features and is equipped with a multi-touch screen, which means a stylus is not needed and all actions are done with the fingertip.
It excels with a clean, simple and comfortable user interface. It also has a 2 mega-pixel camera and Mac-unique software to edit and save the pictures. It also support video formats.
The first version of iPhone does not support 3G (Third-Generation) technology, which means, among other things, that it does not allow users to be seen or to watch the people with whom they are speaking live. In addition, its battery is built-in, so when it breaks down or needs to be replaced the device has to be sent back to Apple, most likely to be replaced for a fee.