Revolutionary Activation Process
Thanks to its partnership with AT&T, Apple actually managed to do something quite different with the first iPhone. Eschewing the carrier subsidies that had already been the norm for many years, Apple chose to sell the iPhone outright at full price. Since users weren’t buying it on contract, this meant that there was no paperwork to fill out when purchasing it, so you could actually buy it in the same way as buying an iPod.
Instead, the activation was handled entirely online via iTunes from the comfort of your home. You would buy your iPhone at an Apple Store or other retailer, then take it home, plug it into your Mac or PC, fire up iTunes, and then follow a series of steps that would take you through the process of either signing up for a new AT&T account or transferring your existing account information over. The SIM card inside the iPhone would be automatically provisioned, and most users were up and running within minutes. It was really quite a great way to set up a new iPhone with service.
Unfortunately, since this required a special arrangement with AT&T, it didn’t really scale all that well as Apple began making the iPhone available on other carriers, nor did Apple’s strategy of selling the iPhone at full retail price without offering carrier subsidies. By the time the iPhone 3G was released the following year, Apple had fallen into line with other mobile phone makers and began selling the iPhone with more traditional subsidies and in-store activations.
This activation feature, however, was also the precursor to what would later become the Activation Lock security feature in iOS 7. From the very beginning, Apple’s iPhones required authorization from the Apple mothership before they would be “activated” for use, so the Activation Lock feature was actually just an extra step that required the original owner’s Apple ID and password to be entered before the activation process could be completed.