Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has had many run ins in recent years with users of its products that the company considers “unsupported”. A new problem with the firm’s latest phone software, iOS 6, has been uncovered, and may lead to run ins with smaller wireless carriers. Some users have been unable to use their wireless data on their iPhones since updating them to the new software.


According to a user on the forums at MacRumors, the company has stopped supporting wireless data and Multi Media Messaging on his phone since he updated to iOS 6. The user’s original thread can be found here. Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)’s support staff have so far been unable to find a solution to the problem.

The user is a subscriber to the Pay-As-You-Go virtual carrier Straight Talk. The brand is owned by TracFone Wireless, which is itself a subsidiary of America Movil SAB de CV (NYSE:AMX). The brand is exclusive to Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT) and is a joint undertaking between the retail firm and TracFone.

Straight Talk SIM cards, when inserted into an iPhone with iOS 6, read the card as an AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) SIM card. This is because Straight Talk is a virtual network, not operating out of its own infrastructure, but on the infrastructure of other firms. When the iPhone detects the presence of an AT&T Inc. SIM Card, it automatically sets the wireless data settings to use that company’s recommendations.

For Straight talk customers, those settings simply do not work. Customers are left without access to wireless data on a product that is synonymous with Internet on the move. Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has so far been unable to solve the problem. Is this another case of Apple not caring about customers it considers unsupported?

Apple has had many tussles in recent years with such customers. The most infamous were the company’s attempts to get the “jailbreaking” of its devices made illegal. Apple still considers the jailbreaking of a device to void the company’s warranty. It is viewed as an unwanted customization, and the customer is no longer supported.

TracPhone is the largest operator of virtual mobile networks in the United States. The company has more than 21 million customers. There is no indication of how many of the carrier’s subscribers are iPhone users, or how many have been affected by this problem, but it is clear from a browse of the Mac Rumors forum that it is somewhat of a widespread issue.

The customer who originated the forum thread has released the letter he most recently sent to Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) about the problem. The full letter can be found here. The letter outlines the problem in great detail, but the complaints are relatively simple.

The first is that his virtual network has problems with data and picture messaging on his iPhone. In iOS 5, there is a clumsy workaround to get data working, but picture messages remain useless. In iOS 6 the solution has been “fixed” by Apple. It is no longer possible to make data work.

The user’s biggest complaint is that he is not allowed to downgrade his phone since installing iOS 6. This is the real issue. Despite purchasing an unlocked iPhone, the user, in the eyes of Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has no rights over the software installed on it. There is no way to downgrade to iOS 5, where at least part of the problem was repairable.

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has long been accused by its detractors of trying to enforce uniformity in its users. More extreme views paint the company in direct parallel to authoritarian regimes. The firm’s refusal to allow customers to decide the software they use on their own phones could be considered in line with even the most extreme metaphors used.

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) is a company that considers the majority of its product users “supported”. These users buy their mobile devices on contract from wireless carriers. They stay on their contract until it runs out, and then upgrade with the same or another wireless carrier.

Customers who do not fit this model fall somewhere in the region of unsupported. Most of these users will be dealt with politely, bar those accused of jailbreaking. Most will never suffer through a problem that Apple will not help them fix. Some, like the MacRumors forums user, are politely spurned and told that it is Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) rather than they who have ultimate control over control of their phones.

Cases like these are not common enough for Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) to worry, or for its share price to suffer. It is the inherent philosophy, the need to control a user’s usage, that may be more worrying for shareholder’s. This is a cautionary tale.

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) may come up with an official fix for this problem. They may apologize to the user in the most effusive of terms. This will not, however, be the last time that the company does not offer its full help to someone not considered fully supported by the company.

Whether or not this trend in Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) customer service and product design and Operating Systems could be downgraded in earlier iPhone models, continues is up to those in charge at Cupertino. It may be against the firm’s financial interest to cede control of devices back to users. Either way, investors in the company should take note of the increasingly paternalistic carry on of the company’s systems.