Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Overseas unlocked iPhone 4S may not be serviceable in Japan

Shukan Ascii confirmed with the Ginza Apple Store that the US, Canadian, New Zealand, and Australian unlocked versions of the iPhone 4S cannot be repaired in Japan due to internal hardware differences. The report also includes the Chinese iPhone 4S, but I didn't even realize that you could buy real iPhones in China (and apparently neither does google's first page of results, which only contains references to fake iPhones).

According to the article, iPhone 4Ss from other countries can be serviced here, though they only confirmed support for the Korean and Hong Kong (traditionally the cheapest source for unlocked iPhones) versions.

There is no mention of what, exactly, is differently, only that HK and SK are part of the same regional product series.

Apple has always been strong on providing world-wide product support. I've purchased Apple computers in both the US and Japan. I've had occasions to take each to an Apple Store for service, and the fact that I was on the wrong side of the planet didn't matter. Contrast this with Sony US, who couldn't even talk to me about my Japanese Vaio. (Sir Howard Stringer cited Apple as an example when he began axing useless Sony crap like Aibo - yes Aibo was useless.)

In my opinion, this removes a large incentive for buying an iPhone (not that I had plans to buy one, but if I did...)


  1. Whilst visiting the US in the last month, my wife had occasion to visit two Apple Stores there in an effort to get her Softbank-locked iPhone 4 with a dead earpiece put back into working order. Both stores readily offered her a new phone (to the point that she had one in-hand), but for some unknown neither were able to get her content and settings to take on any of the phones they had there in stock. It was clearly surprising for the Apple folks -- one staff member said that they'd serviced Japanese phones in the past without issue, even.

    Back in Japan and with some spare time in Tokyo (alas, there are no Apple Stores without several hours travel from Hokuriku), she walked out of the Ginza store with a new phone -- functional and with a proper Softbank carrier profile, though without her old phone's content due entirely to her extreme impatience.

    In any case, I'm not sure what this anecdote proves. Every technical report or teardown I've seen indicates that all iPhone models are globally identical, which makes sense in light of Apple's utter mastery of supply chains and enormous scale volume. It doesn't seem at all likely to me that Apple would arbitrarily decide to produce incompatible regional variations.

  2. Agreed about Apples mastery of the supply chain and how this at first seems unlikely. However, shukan ascii is a reliable source. So I believe this to be the case with the iPhone 4S. Previous unlocked iPhones didn't have this issue, apparently.

    I didn't mention it, but the article also gave examples of how the service flow is different between countries. In Japan, a SBM iPhone can be taken to an Apple Store, but in HK, carrier iPhones cannot be serviced at the Apple Stores, only at carrier shops. Also not sure how that relates to you anecdote.

  3. Mmm, indeed: Softbank refuses (officially, anyway?) to service their contracted iPhones, making you trek instead to an Apple Store, so certainly there are varying carrier agreements with Apple.

    I can't recall ever hearing of unlocked iPhones being available in Japan, which could conceivably affect their local serviceability, I suppose? But the article itself mentions foreign unlocked 3GS/4's being fine previously, so that's out. I really do wonder what these unspecified regional hardware differences are, especially seeing as how South Korea or Hong Kong are just as disparate from Japan as the United States is.

    Interesting story, please keep diggin'! ;)

  4. i changed my unlock Iphone4(hk model) from apple store,Osaka.The only problem is the activation(as you need SB sim) and unlock process takes appx 30min....and they told me 2 big diff in japan and hongkong model are Camera shutter noise and Better Wi-fi hardware for japan models.Now may be similiar like iphone4 they have better hardware for japan models.

  5. For the 3G/3GS/4 (not sure about the original) iPhones, the SIM (carrier) unlock was done via iTunes, during the activation of the iPhone. Apparently, Apple keeps track and controls whether a iPhone is carrier locked or not via a central database. This database was actually compromised this year allowing that person to sell "factory carrier unlocks" using the actual Apple database.

    The 4S (and iOS5) support OTA activations. There also seems like there are a lot of other security features built in, giving the people developing jailbreaks a lot of headaches. Maybe there are now some hardware differences for carrier locked and unlocked phones, sold in the US, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.

  6. With all respect, 'better hardware for Japan' is a myth that has been spread for many devices, but never been proven. It is hard to imagine that Apple would customize the iPhone for an insignificant carrier such as Softbank. They may do some limited firmware customization or create a restrictive carrier profile, but using 'better hardware'?

    You said that you *changed* your HK iPhone at an Osaka Apple store. Does this mean that your HK model has been replaced with a JP model and Apple unlocked the JP model? That would be interesting as Softbank does not unlock iPhones.

  7. I think the "better hardware" may just be a different wireless chip since Japan uses more channels than most other countries

  8. Even japanese-market-only products rarely implement ch14.

  9. Yes they gave me JP model and they did unlock on thier server.and i am using on Docomo.Its apple product not softbank.

  10. Interesting and good to know if my (legally) unlocked UK iPhone4 ever breaks.

  11. News make silence to mind. It increase well knowledge about technologies in audience. Information make well different between technologies and places.

  12. Doubt it - there is no point in making physically different iPhones. They can quite easily and cheaply use the same hardware and use software to disable or control the hardware to conform to different regions.

    Take a look at the Settings>General>About>Regulatory page - the iPhone you have in your hand complies to all the different requirements in nearly 20 countries. Funny fact - it isn't legal to use in China because it doesn't have the required CC mark :)

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