After issuing a thinly veiled threat this week to customers who had the audacity to unlock their iPhones, Apple could soon be dealing with much more troublesome issues than the predictable backlash it's already receiving from rogue hackers and Apple fans alike.

Industry pundits, angry customers and loophole-seeking attorneys are now weighing in with their take on Apple's unambiguous response to what's become something of a cottage industry for hackers and customers who want to unlock their iPhones for use on wireless networks other than AT&T's.

In a statement released Monday, Apple admonished that "unauthorized iPhone unlocking programs available on the Internet cause irreparable damage to the iPhone's software which will likely result in the modified iPhone becoming permanently inoperable when a future Apple-supplied iPhone software update is installed."

It also said users who unlocked their iPhones have violated the terms of their software license agreement and, therefore, had voided their warranty.

Apple's solution—undoubtedly required by virtue of its contract with AT&T—didn't thrill customers who paid as much as $599 for their iPhones and then unlocked them to use non-AT&T wireless networks.

Now they face the "likely" prospect of their iPhones becoming "permanently inoperable" when a future software version is installed. And once their iPhones are disabled, they won't be able to return them to Apple and AT&T for a refund or a replacement.

Apple's position has left iPhone customers, locked or unlocked, asking themselves the same question: Can they really do that?

"In my opinion, if future software upgrades are withheld then there might some legal actions by consumers if, at the time of the purchase of the iPhone, there was no disclaimer in place stating the policy," Terry Daidone, co-founder of CertiCell, a Louisville, Ky.-based mobile phone repair company, wrote in an e-mail to InternetNews.com.

"I have to say that this is not unlike Hewlett Packard or other OEM's who will void the warranty of their printers or hardware if non-OEM supplies are used. Rarely do the follow through with the scare tactics they publish," he added.

Daidone has more than a passing interesting in Warranty Gate. He's the guy who gave New Jersey teenager George Hotz a Nissan 350Z, three brand new iPhones and a paid consulting job with his company in exchange for two unlocked iPhones reconfigured by the resourceful hacker.

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