Can I cancel my AT&T service and use my iPhone as an iPod Touch?
August 7, 2011 9:25 AM   Subscribe

Apple says that if you upgrade to a new iPhone, you can use the old one as an iPod Touch. Can you do that without upgrading?

I'm on sabbatical leave in western Europe for the next year. My wife and I both have AT&T iPhone 3G's (not 3GS's), and AT&T refuses to unlock iPhones. Roaming charges are ridiculous, so we use pay-as-you-go phones over here (UK and France, mostly). I'd like to cancel our AT&T plan; we got the phones in Jan. 2009 so the 2-year contract has expired. But I'd like to use my phone as an iPod Touch.

Has anyone done this? Does it just work, or are there tricks?
posted by brianogilvie to Technology (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The iPhone is just an iPod Touch with cellular capabilities. If you want to be 100% sure that you're not using cell service, pop your SIM card.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 9:29 AM on August 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

Isn't an iPod touch effectively an iPhone without phone or 3G? So couldn't you just remove the SIM card and use the wireless only?
posted by pravit at 9:30 AM on August 7, 2011

I can't answer the question directly (I don't have an iPhone so can't test it), but suspect you will need to unlock the phone in order to do this. I'm going to take a guess that what the KB refers to is doing exactly that - unlocking the old iPhone.

On one of my old AT&T locked Android phones, if you remove the sim, the phone ceases to function at all. To use it as a wifi-only device you need to unlock it so it'll work with the SIM removed.

The answer -- remove the SIM and see if the phone works. If not, you'll need to unlock.
posted by devbrain at 9:44 AM on August 7, 2011

I just tried this with my old 2G so my kid could play with it. I couldn't use the phone without activating, and that would have required me to get a $20 data plan. (Apple's support site says you can activate without charges, but I didn't see that option.) So I took an hour and jailbroke it, and it works on wifi alone without having to activate it.
posted by TallulahBankhead at 9:44 AM on August 7, 2011

An iPhone works without the SIM. You'll be fine.
posted by SansPoint at 9:45 AM on August 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

when i switched prepaid carriers, i had my new (android) phone for a month before it was 'activated'...everything (including wifi, android market, etc) except for calling and texting worked fine without service...seems to me they would have to go to a lot of trouble to brick your phone after your contract is up. try taking the sim card out and see what works...
posted by sexyrobot at 9:45 AM on August 7, 2011

I've got a jailbroken, unlocked iPhone 3G, and for the period of time that during the jailbreak process that it's not a phone [locked to AT&T, T-Mobile SIM isn't recognized], internet access works just fine over wi-fi.

Cancel your AT&T account and you'll be in that zone all the time.
posted by chazlarson at 9:47 AM on August 7, 2011

Oh, BTW, if you want to "upgrade", you could very probably sell your iPhone 3G on craigslist for enough [or nearly enough] to buy a newer iPod Touch. Seems like they usually go for $200 or more, and my son just bought a 4th-gen 32GB Touch for not much north of $200.
posted by chazlarson at 9:50 AM on August 7, 2011

This might or might not apply to the iphone, but my wife just got a new Android phone, and we are now using her old android phone as a wifi-only device. The trick was to turn on Airplane Mode and then re-enable wifi only.
It does not even attempt to talk to the mobile networks (voice or data).
posted by jozxyqk at 9:52 AM on August 7, 2011

Since it is activated, you should be able to take the SIM card out and have it function as a touch. If you try to update the OS or reset the phone it will not reactivate without a SIM card. However, you are want to cancel your AT&T service, so you should be able to use the SIM card you have now to activate it. If you want to sell the phone and activate it without associating it with your SIM card, you should be able to reset the phone and activate it using an "address only SIM card." You can supposedly pick these up at a Radio Shack type place for about $5.

If I were you, I would take the suggestion to sell it and buy a current generation touch. The speed and screen resolution is much better, you can facetime with it, and use Skype or similar to call the US on WiFi.
posted by Yorrick at 10:38 AM on August 7, 2011

if you cancel your AT&T service, AT&T will stop recognizing your SIM card. the phone will work fine, you just won't have any cell service - it'll say No Service where the AT&T bits are now. my old iPhone 3G works just fine as a sorta chunky iPod Touch now that I've upgraded to the 4 (which, as it goes, required a new SIM card, so the old one is still in the 3G).
posted by mrg at 11:06 AM on August 7, 2011

I use my old previous gen iPhone as an iPod touch for the kids. I didn't need to remove the sim card, jailbreak or anything else. Just cancel the service and it will work for everything except phone calls, texts and 3G data.
posted by Joh at 12:26 PM on August 7, 2011

Additional thought - you say AT&T won't unlock iphones, but if you do jailbreak the iphone, you cn unlock it yourself, then sign up with a European carrier.
posted by Joh at 12:27 PM on August 7, 2011

Yes, the phone will work like an iPod without service, that's what happens to me when I forget to pay my bill. You should really consider jail breaking them since they're not under any kind of warranty anyway. Then you could maybe unlock them to use in Europe, but even if you don't, you'll have a lot more functionality, and various aps to use. A jail broken phone can be used more like an external harddrive, and can download pretty much anything. If you go to jailbreak you should be able to jailbreak simply by installing the Cydia app.
posted by catatethebird at 2:54 PM on August 7, 2011

When I upgraded to iPhone 4 from a 3G, I gave my 3G to my son and he uses it with just a WiFi connection to watch videos, run apps, play games, check emails with no probs. Didn't need to remove my SIM card.
posted by Dr. Zira at 3:31 PM on August 7, 2011

Thanks everyone! Since I'm in Europe, I don't want to bother selling the phone. I'll cancel my service and go from there.
posted by brianogilvie at 5:21 AM on August 8, 2011

Oh, @bibliogrrl: I visited that page (it's the link in the first sentence of my question). However, it says that you can use your old phone as a Touch if you have upgraded to a new one. I don't want to upgrade.
posted by brianogilvie at 5:23 AM on August 8, 2011

I don't think that Apple page is saying that you have to upgrade in order to use an iPhone as an iPod. It's just describing the most likely [or desirable, from Apple's standpoint] scenario that would lead to a guy having a spare iPhone lying around.
posted by chazlarson at 8:08 AM on August 16, 2011

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