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Thursday, March 6, 2008

Is Your iPhone or iPod Touch Jailbroke?


Almost immediately after Apple shipped the iPhone, a group of developers began writing applications for the device that gave it additional computing capabilities they were used to with other palm computers and smart phones. Some of these apps were written as great fun like the one above with different looks or skins for the Home screen and icons. Don't you find youself transported back to the mid-80s looking at the screen on the far right?

A madcap group of developers wrote more serious applications that added functionality they missed by not using their Treo's or Blackberry. When sites like ModMyiFone popped up you could find over 300 applications written and available on your iPhone via the Installer.app. These apps are very cleaver, including one called Labyrinth, which emulates the old wooden and steel ball game you used to play as a kid where you tried to tilt the surface to guide the ball into a goal. The genius of the iPhone adaptation is that it commandeered the built in accelerometers in the iPhone (used to rotate photos, web pages and movies -- and WHY can't Apple do it for the mail client?) to mimic the actions of the physical game it emulates.

But these developers and their programs were not officially approved by Apple. And, in order for users to take advantage of serious and fun applications on their iPhone they had to "break" or in the parlance of the community jailbreak their iPhone or iPod Touch to install these applications.

After todays announcement of Apple SDK and Apple apps program for the development and distribution channel for iPhone applications, will Apple truly open the iPhone to all the range of possibilities for new applications or will it be a gatekeeper and cherry pick and restrict users from getting the tools they want.

A big part of the thrust of today's announcement focused on enterprise users and extending the office uses for Microsoft Exchange Servers and ActiveSync support. Certainly that is aimed at shoring up their corporate relations within the industry. But what about the larger community of non-corporate consumer users?

Perhaps the first question that developers wanted to know has been answered -- Apple will require all applications to come through the Apple iTS to be installed. The developer will be charged a $99 for the standard commercial and free application kit and $299 for the Enterprise developer kit. Apple will require a developer to register and split the proceeds from the sale 70/30 with the developer. 70 percent will go to the writer. Free applications will not be charged for the place in the Apple apps Store.

However, functioning as a gatekeeper, what will Apple allow and what software will it restrict on the iPhone?

Apple said publicly it will restrict pornography through its sales on iTS. Okay, but what else? Apple said it will restrict applications that invade people's privacy. Understandable in the abstract but not very clear since the Camera function on the iPhone could easily be classified (and often is by YMCA's and YWCA's as well as other athletic facilities) to be privacy invasive software on their properties. Apple says it will restrict applications that are "illegal." Sounds like room for a lot of interpretation and potential litigation.

The question will remain: Is it best to start buying your iPhone and iPod Touch applications through Apple apps or keep it jailbroken and use the applications being freely developed in the world of software? Will the new Apple Apps Store eliminate the need to jailbreaking your cell phone or iPod Touch or will users still need to be hackers to get what they want on their purchased electronic devices?

Back in the 1980s, when we bought our first Macs we didn't need to answer these difficult questions. It just shows how far we've come and how different Apple is as a hardware and software company today.

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