iPhone hack stories to continue post-SDK, writers say

For years, iPod hackers were all but ignored as they succeeded in making early iPods run Linux, games, and alternate menu systems. But in 2007, iPhone and Apple TV hackers started to enjoy considerable and favorable publicity, as they released hacks and applications that let the devices perform beyond Apple-imposed limitations. In response, Apple last week opened the door to officially sanctioned third-party software for the iPhone and iPod touch, announcing an inexpensive software development kit, a business model, and a distribution network, while simultaneously implying certain restrictions on developers’ freedom. 

Now that hacks will no longer be needed to create applications for the iPhone and iPod touch, iLounge’s editors wondered whether publications will continue to salute Apple hackers as heroes, or whether they will discontinue coverage of hacks now that Apple has provided an official alternative. We contacted a number of publications to get their views on this subject, and received different responses, generally suggesting that coverage of hacks is here to stay. Here’s what we heard; we will add additional responses as we receive them.

(1) Is iPhone and iPod hacking a good thing now that Apple’s SDK provides a legitimate alternative?

Tom Krazit, CNET News: “So long as Apple maintains a one-carrier, one-country policy, I think there’s going to be iPhone hacking indefinitely. I also think there’s going to be a lot of small independent developers that don’t want to join Apple’s official program, because their applications won’t be approved or they don’t want to pony up the $99, or whatever. … Is iPhone hacking a good thing? Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t.”

Jesus Diaz, Gizmodo: “I’m happy with the SDK, and most people will pass now on Installer because Apple’s method is open enough and very easy to use. However, hacking is always a good thing, it pushes the envelope forward. It makes Apple work harder to make the iPhone more secure, and it gives the user more options. Example: today we announced how the Pwnage project gives the user total independence for both carriers and applications. While this may not be useful for most, a big amount of iPhone users will find it extremely useful.”

Webmaster, MacDailyNews: “Hacking will continue in order to attempt to deliver things which Apple has said they will bar. Hacking is both good and bad depending on what it’s used for.”

Kasper Jade, AppleInsider: “…I don’t see hackers backing off anytime soon. It’s an inevitable cat and mouse game; given restrictions, there will always be interest amongst some to breach them. It’s only human nature. And once in a while, a great idea will come out of it.”

John Gruber, Daring Fireball: “I don’t think it was ever ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ It is what it is. It was and remains interesting, from a technical perspective.”

Philip Elmer-DeWitt, Fortune: “Seems to me there were two types of iPhone hacks: 1) efforts to write native apps despite the absence of an SDK and 2) attempts to unlock the phone for use in countries where there was no approved carrier. Now that there’s an SDK, we’ll likely see less of type 1. Type 2 will be with us for some time.”

(2) Do you plan to continue to publish hack-related news now that Apple has released the SDK?

Jesus Diaz, Gizmodo: “Yes.”

Tom Krazit, CNET News: “We’ll continue to cover iPhone hacking. This device and platform is still in its infancy (literally) at under a year old. Those developments will continue to have an impact on how the iPhone is used around the world, and how developers react to Apple’s official program. Also, we don’t know yet exactly how Apple intends to enforce its control over what types of applications get to run on the iPhone, and if Apple is heavy-handed with its approach, iPhone hacking won’t go anywhere.”

Webmaster, MacDailyNews: “Yes. Because it is news.”

Kasper Jade, AppleInsider: “Apple has made its stance on hacked or jail-broken iPhones crystal clear. As such, we’ve ceased coverage of those topics because we feel it’s in the best interest of our readers that we not advocate methods that put their cell phones—arguably the most personal piece of electronics one owns—at unnecessary risk.”

John Gruber, Daring Fireball: “My criteria remain the same: if the news is interesting or important, I publish it. I expect that jailbreak iPhone development will quickly become both less interesting and less important, but if I’m wrong, I won’t hesitate to write about it.”

Philip Elmer-DeWitt, Fortune: “If I think it’s of general interest, I’ll write about it. I suspect there are 3rd party developers who will chafe at the restrictions in the SDK. But there’s no question some of the steam has gone out of the story now that Apple has stepped up to the plate.”

(3) Since these sorts of hacks may violate Apple’s product license terms and invalidate their warranties, what’s your take on what readers should do when a hack interests them, or isn’t that your concern?

Jesus Diaz, Gizmodo: “No need to be concerned. People can always restore the iPhone to an Apple-official firmware and no warranty will be ‘voided.’ AppleCare will never notice that you have installed another firmware. Only paid unlocks, like the one sold by iPhone Sim Free, will remain through restores. Those could probably be detected. But as for Installer.app and the rest of unlocks out there, once you restore, your iPhone will be in the same state as it came from the factory.

In any case, it’s up to the user to decide what to do. We always tell readers about the possible consequences of hacks. Whoever decides to play with their iPhones in this way, it’s their own business, not Apple’s, not ours.”

Tom Krazit, CNET News: “I think my only obligation to the reader when it comes to iPhone hacking is to remind them that they are breaking the terms of their EULA when they jailbreak or unlock, and that might make it difficult to get service from Apple if something goes wrong. On a related note, I think we need to explain why Apple is taking this approach, that officially created apps are more likely to be secure and reliable than unofficial ones. Other than that, I’m not going to moralize about the ethics of iPhone hacking.”

Webmaster, MacDailyNews: “If users wish to void their warranties, it’s up to them. Some will hack, but most won’t; especially after the 2.0 update is released.”

John Gruber, Daring Fireball: “If users want to use these hacks, they should feel free to, but they must understand that they’re voiding their warranty by doing so and will receive no support from Apple for any adverse effects. This, too, is unchanged from the situation prior to the official SDK release.”

Philip Elmer-DeWitt, Fortune: “My advice? Don’t cross the line if you can’t do the time.”

Thanks to the writers and editors of these publications for sharing your views. As always, we are interested in hearing what our readers think, as well.

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