All new iPhones are unactivated at the time of purchase, a process that requires you to sign up for cellular service and purchase a data plan through your provider. Without activation, there is very little you can do with your new iPhone, so it's important to activate it as soon as possible.
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The iPhone activation process is a security measure put in place by Apple that prevents the unauthorised use or sale of iPhones. Before they are activated, iPhones are essentially useless, providing very little functionality beyond the ability to turn the device on and off. If you have an unactivated iPhone that you recently purchased, you will need to activate it prior to taking advantage of the phone's features and benefits.
Even when it's not activated, you can use your iPhone to make emergency calls. In the United States, this means you can dial 9-1-1 on any unactivated iPhone to request emergency assistance. You won't be able to make any other phone calls, however, including those to local fire or police officials.
You have two main options for activating your iPhone -- either in the store or through iTunes. The activation process will vary depending on your cell phone carrier, but generally requires a basic credit check and a two-year contract. If you choose to activate your iPhone at home via iTunes, understand that you will need to make an in-store visit to your cellular carrier to complete the activation process. With most of the steps being completed at home, the process should be relatively quick.
Contrary to popular belief, an unactivated iPhone cannot be used as an iPod Touch. While it's true that an activated iPhone can be used either without a SIM card or with an expired SIM card, it must be activated first. Prior to activation, the iPhone is essentially useless, as you'll have no access to the phone's calling, messaging, iPod, web browsing or application features. The only feature you will have access to is the ability to call for emergency help.
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