iPhone: Over the fear and into the Yes

This next piece will demonstrate to the satisfaction of all that Speedbird is so not the place to come for breaking technical news. I imagine the iPhone-enthusiast and gadget sites informed their audiences about this development weeks ago, if not months.

Nevertheless, I also imagine that there’s relatively little overlap between that audience and those of you that frequent this site, so hopefully this will prove as revelatory to you as it was to me. Next to the book project announcement, this is the thing that’s really been topping my glee levels off these last few days.

Kazys Varnelis and I met up for lunch at Veselka day before yesterday. Now Veselka is warm and homey, but it’s also a pretty efficient place; maybe six minutes passed between the moment he ordered his pierogis and their arrival. And it was inside that interval – with a minute or two to spare, yet – that he not merely showed me how to open up my iPhone, but had helped me load it up with all kinds of useful applications.

To unlock the phone, all I had to do was enter a URL in Safari, scroll down to the bottom of the page, and click a single link.

That was it, the whole process I had been dreading for the last five months. Done.

All I could think was, “What was I so afraid of?” I had succumbed to the New Apple’s FUD about “bricking” my phone, been hamstrung by the deep-seated fear that I might botch something in the course of the unlocking that would render it inert and leave me with a $500 paperweight. On some level, too, I was worried that my unlocked iPhone would look and act all open-sourcy, that its elegant interaction design would be overwritten with some poorly-resolved kludge.

I needn’t have fretted, on either count. Trust me, non-technical me: there’s nothing to botch here. It either Just Works or it doesn’t (and it won’t, sadly, if you’ve updated to the very latest iPhone firmware – sorry, Greg). If something goes wrong, you simply restore the firmware, and you’re no worse off than you were before. I’d even argue that the look and feel is improved over the status quo ante – and since the jailbreak patches the operating system vulnerability that it exploited in the first place, your phone is demonstrably more secure as well.

What I now hold in my hands is the iPhone I’ve wanted from the jump. There’s a certain giddy delight in loading it up with stuff, a kick I haven’t gotten from any mobile device since the days of the Palm III.

In practical terms, you’ll probably want to install the BSD subsystem and Summerboard UI framework before doing anything else. But then, ZOMG, you’re free to browse at the extensive and growing buffet of applications on offer. My own favorites so far are NYC Crosswalk – you give it a Manhattan address, it returns you the cross streets – and the brilliant Navizon, a software-only “GPS” that gives the iPhone the locative abilities it’s cried out for from the get-go. You’ll have your own. That’s the point.

Download statistics for the jailbreak are available, and Kazys makes the excellent point that they paint a very interesting picture:

Hundreds of thousands (and just possibly over a million) users have jailbroken their phones, downloading programs onto them. [S]omething like one in six went a step further to unlock them to use non-AT&T SIMs. For comparison’s sake, Apple only sold 4 million iPhones…If Apple opens up the iPhone enough and if Navizon allows hooks into their system from other applications, then the era of mass locative media will be upon us very rapidly in 2008.

I think that’s exactly right. Way back before any of us mortals had gotten our hands on one, I described the iPhone as “the first true everyware device” – and I was, of course, badly mistaken, because Steve, for reasons known only to himself, did not want that. Apple made decisions that kept the iPhone from being any such thing. Now those decisions have been unmade.

Just in case it wasn’t obvious, I’m but-thoroughly stoked by this – huge thanks to Kazys, and even bigger props to the community of iPhone hackers that figured out how to make thwarting Apple Apple-simple. I really do encourage those of you who own iPhones to give this a try, especially if you travel overseas. It takes something that was already excellent and a genuine pleasure to use, and improves it. You have nothing to lose but your chains…and disproportionately huge AT&T bills waiting for you on your return.

2 responses to “iPhone: Over the fear and into the Yes”

  1. eversion says :

    *sprints to shop to buy an iPhone*

    Message from my wallet: Damn you Greenfield!

  2. AG says :

    Heh. Mea culpa.

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