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iPhone third-party apps support finally on agenda

Reports suggest that Apple is finally coming round to supporting third-party app install on the iPhone as an incentive to deter unlocking.

Apple look set to open the iPhone to third-party applications, but only from approved developers.

According to 9to5Mac, "Apple has been furiously working with their partners on games and applications for the iPhone/iPod".

The website draws a parallel with T-Mobile's restrictions for its Sidekick smartphone, where developers access to the platform is rigidly controlled. Apple has even gone as far as employing members of the team that built the Sidekick's operating system, 9to5Mac claims.

It was always unlikely that Apple would close off the iPhone forever, particularly as it has a nice business selling iPod games through the iTunes Store. But making a limited selection of games and possibly other kinds of applications available will not placate hackers committed to circumventing all the restrictions on the phone.

Not least because buying, unlocking and then selling iPhones appears to be be a lucrative business, with handsets selling for as much as $600 (300), $250 over the US retail price..

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster estimates that one in ten iPhones are bought for this purpose.

"During our store checks we noticed many people buying iPhones in the maximum five-per-customer allotments, which we believe were being purchased to be unlocked and operated on carriers other than AT&T," he wrote in a note to investors. "This trend was especially noticeable in the New York City store, where one Apple employee acknowledged that customers were buying five iPhones per store visit in order to resell unlocked. At one point during out visit, the store sold out of iPhones. Judging from our checks, as much as 10 per cent of the iPhones sold in September were purchased with the intention to be resold unlocked."

That's considerably more than American Research Technology's Shaw Wu estimates - he told investors that the figure was "immaterial" - but more than the hundreds of thousands claimed by arch iPhone hackers masquerading as the iPhone Dev Team.

It is not known how many unlocked phones were rendered unusable by the recent software update.

It appears that Apple's decision to tie the iPhone to a specific network provider - AT&T in the US, O2 in the UK and T-Mobile in Germany - has put paid to plans to release the phone in France. According to a French website [Google translation] negotiations between Apple and France Telecom broke down when France Telecom, which owns Orange, pointed out to Apple that selling iPhone with an Orange contract would be fine, only it would be obliged by French law to also sell it without a subscription plan.

Apple's contract with AT&T reportedly commits Apple to locking the iPhone in every country in which it is sold. This is designed to prevent grey market imports to the US from "unlocked countries". In return Apple gets a slice of AT&T's iPhone revenues.

France, it seems, has joined Finland and Belgium - where it is illegal to sell any phone with a contract - as European countries that will be denied the iPhone. EU officials living and working in Brussels may not be to impressed as they investigate allegations of anti-competitive practices by Apple's iTunes music business.

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