Technically, Apple has no way to get what the government seeks from them, unless it develops a unique operating system (dubbed Govt.OS) that opens the phone in question. Apple's fear is that by developing code for something that does not currently exist, the code will get into the wrong hands, thus threatening the security of everyone in the world who has personal information stored on their iPhone.
If the court rules against Apple, some engineers who are involved in writing iOS code are talking about refusing to do the work needed to build the so-called Govt.OS. Other engineers who work on iOS say that they will simply quit. Apple CEO Tim Cook sent an email to customers last month, pointing out some of the hypocrisy behind the government's request. "The same engineers who built strong encryption into the iPhone to protect our users would, ironically, be ordered to weaken those protections and make our users less safe," said Cook.
According to a letter written by Apple in February, it will take a team of six to ten engineers as long as one month to build Govt.OS. But if these employees decide to make things difficult for the government, it could take much longer to complete the task. And while engineers are discussing the matter now, should the judge rule in favor of the government, Apple will still have a number of appeals that could take months to exhaust.
At the end of the day, there is a choice. If they don't want to turn over Govt.OS to the DOJ, all of the engineers involved in iOS code writing could decide to quit. That is one of the options that they are said to be considering. If that were to happen, Apple would probably not have to unlock the phone, according to Joseph DeMarco, a former federal prosecutor. But DeMarco says that if it comes down to Apple's engineers keeping their jobs but deciding just not to write the code, the court would probably find Apple in contempt. Another possibility is that Apple could be fined every day until it complies with the court.