Why can’t we turn off the iPhone’s phone? (legitimately, that is) - Macenstein

Why can’t we turn off the iPhone’s phone? (legitimately, that is)

Faithful Macenstein reader Kevin O’Neil writes:

Hey Doc,

I had an interesting experience that I’d like to alert Apple to regarding the iPhone and I thought perhaps I’d share it with you.

I just returned from Jamaica where I comfortably kept my iPhone on “Airplane” mode so as to avoid the types of experiences that have generated nightmare overseas+iPhone roaming bill stories across the web. Well, at the lobby of my resort, free WiFi was available. Trouble was, I couldn’t take the phone off of “airplane” mode to log on to the WiFi without it also connecting to the local GSM carrier. I tried to go to settings and turn off the connection but the iPhone only allowed me to select a carrier manually or automatically. In other words, there is no option to just turn off the phone service while still using the WiFi.

Since the iPhone is arguably a greatly enhanced iPod Touch, shouldn’t the user be allowed to use the iPhone just for WiFi similar to how one could with the iPod Touch? It seems this feature is greatly needed for the international traveler. In my case, I received a stream of text messages when I turned my phone off “airplane” mode and no doubt will incur the wrath of those data roaming charges on next month’s bill.

Thought you might be interested in this topic. Nice new layout, BTW.

Thanks Kevin. And yes, you are absolutely right. After reading the horror stories of iPhone users who went overseas only to return to find $3000+ phone bills for roaming charges and internet usage, it seems like the next big “feature” ‘we should be asking Apple to add to the iPhone is actually the ability to take something away – namely, the phone service. It seems only right to add an “iPod touch”-mode to the iPhone in addition to its Airplane mode. iPod touch mode would enable the iPhone to log on to free Wi-Fi networks without simultaneously searching for a GSM network (and racking up unnecessary charges in the process).

There were reports months ago that if you activated the iPhone on AT&T’s little known month-to-month plan, then canceled your contract, your iPhone would still work, essentially becoming a Wi-Fi iPod (this was of course pre-iPod touch). Now, after a small group of sites have begun offering to unlock the iPhone, there could potentially become a small but still sizeable market of AT&T iPhone users like Kevin who might consider paying to unlock their iPhone, and still stick with AT&T as their provider.

I am not sure if any of the current hacking solutions allow your iPhone to function without ANY carrier (hopefully one of our faithful readers can clarify this for me), but if they do, it might be just the thing to encourage more mainstream iPhone users to plunk down money for the hack. Personally, I do not want to switch from AT&T, but it would be worth maybe $50 to me to be able to hack the iPhone so that I could remove the SIM card if I wanted, and travel outside the US.

What are your thoughts?

29 Responses to “Why can’t we turn off the iPhone’s phone? (legitimately, that is)”
  1. Richard N says:

    Call me crazy, but can’t you just take out your SIM card?

  2. jeff says:

    how about using an unactivated AT&T or Cingular sim just for travel? Most previous at&t or cingular customers should have one in their old phone. Just an idea.

  3. Here’s a simple solution: take out the SIM card when you don’t want the phone portion of the iPhone to function.

    WiFi should still work fine, though I haven’t tried this.

  4. Richard,
    Well, sometimes the most obvious solutions are the ones that take the longest to see. Yes, I just tried popping out the SIM card, and was indeed able to use the iPhone as Wi-Fi-only. “No SIM” appears as the carrier.

    However, sometimes what seems like the simplest solutions are also NOT the simplest. It would be far better for Apple to add a “tick box” in the iPhone’s prefs that would initiate this. Asking users to pop their SIM cards in and out is asking for trouble, and not the most elegant solution.

    This will certainly be my quick fix workaround when abroad, although the thought of carrying a paper clip and loose SIM card around while traveling is less than ideal. I’d still like to see a “disable SIM” or “Travel Mode” option in the Phone prefs though.

    But thanks for saving me (and others) from a potentially disastrous overseas bill!

    -The Doc

  5. Kevin says:

    Taking the SIM card out as an interim solution is good thinking but relying on that approach as a permanent fix is Microsoft-esque. Half of the people who have iPhones don’t even know that the SIM is removable. The other half struggle with a paper clip. Come on Apple, save us all the headache and the money we waste on foreign carriers and put in a “disable network” setting.

  6. Raul says:

    Well, I just saw on Digg that they just released the first free-of-charge iPhone unlocking software, aptly titled iUnlock… I didn’t read too much up on it.

  7. John says:

    Please remember – it is called the iPhone for a reason. It’s a phone most of all. Don’t want to use the phone? Just remove the SIM card – which honestly is quicker than any series of mens in the OS of the phone. A simple solution to a simple problem.

  8. Hudson says:

    Taking out the SIM card is a workable but inelegant solution. I agree that Apple should give us disconnect SIM option.

    I recently took the phone for a week-long trip to Aruba. Before I left the US I called AT&T and asked that international calling be enabled so that I could use country codes if I needed the phone in an emergency. I also set my mail to only refresh when I opened the mail tool. Whenever I found a wifi zone I sync-ed my mail. Even though I did a lot of SMS-ing during the week, my overall bill for the trip was $36…

    My advice to cell phone users in general is to take responsibility for your actions and learn about your options before you go on a trip.

  9. Gidgidonihah says:

    Okay, while this is still a workaround, it’s less of a hassle than taking out the sim. Plus you don’t need a “Sim card removal tool” (read: paper clip).

    I don’t remember the exact steps but you can search around. Go to settings -> phone -> Sim pin or something like that. Turn it on. The standard pin is 1111

    Now turn off the phone by holding the sleep button. Then turn the phone back on. When the dialog pops up choose ok. Behold, phoneFree iPhone.

    When you want the phone back, make a call, the dialog will pop up and choose unlock. Enter the pin. Behold your iphone works as a phone again.

    But I agree, there should be a wifi mode.

  10. An app called DeEDGE is going to be out soon on the Installer.app

    You only need to click on the app and thats it.

    Read more here:


  11. Judith says:

    All you have to do is keep the power button on the top right pushed in until the screen “slide to turn off” apears…..

  12. preeze says:

    ARGH… I hate responses like Hudson, no one is asking for anyone to take responsibiltiy of anyones actions here buddy, what we’re all asking for here is a SIMPLE, BASIC feature that is available on any device that has a phone as a feature, like a PDA for instance.

  13. lmac says:

    Use SIM PIN in phone settings…locks the phone part and you can use wifi and iPod. Turn off edge data as well.

    No need to take out the SIM card…just lock it. You can speciafy a new password (PIN #) if you like. But all you do is set SIM PIN to ON and turn of the phone on start up it will ask you for the SIM PIN #. Choose to disable the phone and it will be off until the next start up…

  14. jeffery says:

    hey guys..i need some help real bad..my iphone has frozen up while on the ipod feature.the off button on the top right does not work, nor does removing the sim…i cant receive or make calls and the touch creen is frozen…someboby please hit me up wid something that woks at niceboyjjj@hotmail.com

  15. MIKE says:

    hey guys..i need some help real bad..my iphone has frozen up while on the ipod feature.the off button on the top right does not work, nor does removing the sim…i cant receive or make calls and the touch screen is frozen…somebody please hit me up wild something that woks at emyeu_66@hotmail.com

  16. kim says:

    Thank you so much. Ive been searching all over and this is the only site I’ve found with info on turning off the phone service. I have no intention to use the iphone as a phone while traveling.

  17. john doe says:

    um, actually you can just put it in airplane mode then go to settings and turn wifi on manually…it works…

  18. mary says:

    Info on how to use the APPS and not the phone. I spoke to a guy at the Apple Store he indicated to set it on Airplane Mode, WI-FI on. go to settings, select General,Network, and make sure Data Roaming is turned off . You will not be able to connect to the phone towers in your international destination. I hope it works I am leaving for France.

  19. Jr says:

    Hey guys, if you didn’t get your phone fixed and it’s still frozen you could try holding the home button and top button (sleep) together for atleast ten seconds. It has worked when my touch freezes.

  20. Tim Sheppard says:

    There’s been a solution to this in the 2.0 Firmware update. If you turn on AirPlane mode, you can now go into WiFi settings and turn on the WiFi connection. This enables you to connect to the net with local WiFi networks, but without connecting to the GSM carrier.

    It think this 2.0 feature may be undocumented, but if you are roaming abroad this should be invaluable in stopping those high roaming charges.

    Its real simple – switch on AirPlane mode to de-activate GSM connections and then go to WiFi settings and switch your WiFi back on. It’s really that simple. Enjoy 😉

  21. angeltaz says:

    thank you so much for all your sharing! i’ve been searching on how to turn-off the phone while i still enjoy the other features of my iphone and here i got my answer.. 😉

  22. Russ says:

    It would be great if you can (through the software) only turn off the phone. Turning on the WiFi allows you to browse web, etc. But GPS doesn’t work on the 3Gs…

  23. Carisa says:

    I live in an area where I have no cell phone/mobile coverage. If I don’t remember to turn it to Airplane mode I loose battery so quick its not even funny. But this is not practical because I use great applications like Ping and FaceBook with Push notification as a means of communication with the outside world. It’s really hard when you can’t turn the phone of from search for networks and not having the WiFi turned off to receive Pings/FB stuffs.

    So I am not looking for a way to save on a bill. I am looking for a way to save on battery life. If I turn Airplane mode on… my battery lasts for days. I have tried doing the hacks and doing it that way which work but it messes around with Push and it doesn’t always work.

    So APPLE or some App Developer … as I would be happy to pay for such an App… please allow for us to be able to turn of the phone part of the iPhone but allow the WIFI to work.

  24. John Peterson says:

    I found info on ArsTechnica.com (04/200) on this. There is a two step process for disabling the GSM/Bluetooth/EDGE/3G radios and enabling the WiFi radio.

    1. Put the phone in Airplane Mode.
    2. Re-enable the WiFi radio.

    I wish it was a one step process, but I’ll settle for two 🙂


  25. John Peterson says:

    Oops… I meant to say the article was on 04/2009 not 04/200 sorry for the confusion.

  26. Ron Boutwell says:

    There is a fix for the $3000 overseas data bill scenario. My 14 year old (leave it to a kid to figure it out) uses this to save my bill (thank God he loves his dad). Go under “SETTINGS>GENERAL>NETWORK”, then switch “CELLULAR DATA” to “OFF”. Now your phone will ONLY receive/send data by “WI FI”. But your phone still works for making calls or sending/receiving SMS.

  27. James says:

    Hmmnon of the above solutions address the issue. Here is I guess the best solution and I am currently using it in Canada as I am on vacation. Go to settings and turn on airplane mode, this will turn the phone, wifi, 3G and edge of all together. However, if you want to just use wifi, turn wifi on from the settings and the phone will just work fine by connecting to your preferred wifi. I don’t really see the point of taking the sim card out etc. This is by far the simplest solution and can be done within few seconds and clicks.

    All the best

  28. Carlyyyyyy says:

    When you turn off the phone all you have to do is just keep the sim locked and you will still be able to use the wifi features of the phone and the apps and music. It always works for me! 🙂

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