Apple should have NEVER sold unactivated iPhones. By removing the industry-wide standard of the phone leaving the store activated to the carrier -- especially when they're depending on revenues from monthly service fees -- it essentially said to the world, "Hey, come hack this phone and screw us over financially!" Bad move. I know they wouldn't have sold quite so many phones at the beginning, but it would have locked so many more iPhone purchasers into the AT&T contract, kick-starting an automatic stream of money each month to both companies.
By selling unactivated iPhones, Steve Jobs traded good long-term PR for a simpler setup experience, all the while risking the product's financial success. Now what we have are people (rightly) complaining that a product that they "own" is being maliciously bricked. If all those phones had been activated in the first place, what would AT&T or Apple care if they're hacked, so long as the $$$ is flowing in their direction each month?
This is unprecedented. If I buy a product from a manufacturer and NEVER use it for its original and intended purpose, the sale is still complete. The completion of the sale is NOT a contract that I'm going to then use it for what the manufacturer wants me to. At no point does the manufacturer have the right to come back and destroy my product because I never used it the way they wanted me to. Sure, they don't have to support it if I break it, or even provide updates that won't potentially mess things up, but INTENTIONALLY breaking it after saying they weren't trying to intentionally break it is pathetic. I know it hasn't been proven that Apple intentionally bricked all these phones, but I can't see how the other updates that they did apply necessitated the update that bricks an unlocked iPhone.
Apple has a really dark cloud hanging over it where I'm concerned... and I don't even own an iPhone.
The way to fix it: Start selling those things activated. Don't let people walk out of the store until those terms of service and service contract are understood, signed, and sealed. Then whine if these subscribers violate the terms of service and brick their unlocked phones if the TOS allows for it.