Perhaps more important than the bricking of unlocked iPhones is the fact that the firmware update blocked third-party application development. Apple has refused to open the iPhone platform to third-party developers, saying programmers should write Ajax-based applications that users can access through the Safari Web browser.
Appearing at a London Apple store for the UK launch of the iPod, Steve Jobs was asked about the rash of solutions for “unlocking” the iPhone, software and procedures that allow customers to use the device with a carrier other than AT&T.
“It’s a cat-and-mouse game,” he said. “We try to stay ahead. People will try to break in, and it’s our job to stop them breaking in.” Jobs brought down the hammer last week with firmware update 1.1.1, which turned cracked iPhones into very handsome bricks. More importantly, the upgrade disabled hundreds of third-party applications that users had downloaded.
Now the cat-and-mouse game is in full swing, as a team of hackers has posted several methods for downgrading the firmware back to version 1.0.2. The downgrade turns a bricked iPhone back into a useful device — essentially an iPod touch with iPod and Wi-Fi capabilities — but so far hackers have not figured out how to downgrade the phone’s “baseband” chip Relevant Products/Services, which controls the telephony Relevant Products/Services aspects of the device.
Update Blocked Third-Party Apps
Apple spokesperson Jennifer Bowcock was quoted by the New York Times on Friday as saying, “If the damage was due to use of an unauthorized software application, voiding their warranty, they should purchase a new iPhone.”
But with application installers such as AppTap, users have been able to install and uninstall third-party programs on the iPhone. Clearly, with the latest firmware update, Apple means to control its platform.
“So long as Apple controls the platform, they can negotiate who gets their specialized applications native to the device,” Andrew Storms, director of security Relevant Products/Services operations, for nCircle, said in an e-mail. “One has to imagine that Apple has some of the brightest and dedicated programmers working on the iPhone. The downside is that most of them are probably right now working on further ways to keep control of the device in Apple’s hands.”
Still, over the past few months, Apple got a good look at the kinds of apps that users responded to. “I’ll place a wager that the iPhone product-management team is actively looking at those custom apps and making plans to integrate some of that creative inspiration in future iPhone updates,” he said.
‘We’re Just Heartbroken’
That’s little solace to folks like Damien Stolarz, author of the upcoming book “iPhone Hacks” and a software developer. Downloading applications on the iPhone was a “fully polished, Apple-like experience,” he said in a telephone interview. “This isn’t hacking; this is double-click installer app and download.” Over the EDGE network, he said, applications downloaded almost instantly.
“When they said the iPhone ran OS X, they weren’t kidding,” he added. “If you know how to write for OS X you know how to write for iPhone. This is the most flexible development environment I’ve ever owned.” That makes it all the more galling that Apple just shut off third-party programs, he said. “We’re just heartbroken,” he added.
As for developing apps through Ajax, Stolarz said, “that’s really BS.” Apple doesn’t provide the hooks into the phone to allow online apps to create compelling experiences, he added. Ultimately, this cat-and-mouse game is a giant waste of brainpower, Stolarz suggested.
“If you just let them work on the platform,” he speculated, “what amazing things would the platform do? Some of these brilliant hackers are the ones who could write the next killer app.”