You should never mix Apples and Oranges, particularly in France.

French law, with a little help from Orange, the telecommunications company that recently won the right to be the exclusive network provider for the iPhone in France, has been making it hard for Steve Jobs and Co to introduce the iPhone into the country.

This may have been like just a little regulatory hurdle to some, but the iPhone's fate in France could have consequences here in the UAE.

The big issue for Apple is a French law that doesn't allow network providers to require blood money, a.k.a. subscriptions, with the phones they sell. Under the law, network providers such as Orange must also provide unlocked versions of the phones.

Well, that sucks for Apple. Unlocked phones go against the company's entire marketing programme, which so far has consisted of tying the iPhone into one exclusive network. Apple is now stuck with a rather unsavoury selection of options.

They can sell the unlocked phones in France, thereby making France the biggest retailer of iPhones in the world, or they don't sell them in France at all. Who, after all, is going to want a locked iPhone when an unlocked version is available for the same price?

Actually, that's a trick question. It doesn't matter if it is one iPhone or hundred of thousands. The real issue with unlocked iPhones is that they undermine Apple's strategy of having exclusive deals with one network.

They will still get the money from the retail sales, but Apple loses network fees every time someone takes the iPhone to a rival network. No network is going to want to pay 30 per cent of its networking fees to Apple (it's rumoured the UK's O2 is paying 40 per cent) when the competition can run the iPhone without giving up any fees.

Apple's entire marketing strategy will have a meltdown if unlocked iPhones hit the market. (Yes, I know that unlocked phones are already on the market, but they're not authorised phones. Some consumers will shy away from having to fight with the manufacturer to keep their mobile "unbricked". More on this later.)

Another option

Another option for Apple includes changing the French law. Can the company convince the French government to rethink its legislation, which means that an American company will be dictating French policy for its communications networks? Gras chance.

But that may be irrelevant anyway, thanks to the unauthorised phones hitting the market. While Jobs and Co have been hunting down and bricking iPhones that have been unlocked by third-party software with all the zeal of a Salem witch hunter, all they managed to do is look like a bunch of bug-eyed lunatics.

Even iPhone update 1.1.1, which disables hacked iPhones, itself has reportedly been hacked. No one knows how long Apple will continue to produce anti-hacking updates that are so easily hacked themselves - probably until they succeed in alienating a majority of its user base - but it looks like the presence of the unlocked iPhone, authorised or not, is something Apple is going to have to get used to.

That brings things back here to the UAE. If Apple starts offering unlocked phones, it could mean a rollout of the iPhone here as planned and everyone who bought a hacked iPhone will probably be off the hook.

But if Apple sticks to its guns, the debut of the iPhone may have to wait until Apple reaches an agreement with either du or etisalat. As of this week, both networks are saying Apple hasn't even knocked on their door yet.

While Jobs and Co have been hunting down and bricking iPhones that have been unlocked with all the zeal of a Salem witch hunter, all they managed to do is look like a bunch of lunatics.