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iPhone Developer: Article

Why is O'Reilly Condoning iPhone Hacking?

To run the code described in the book, readers would need to jailbreak their iPhones, which violates their license agreement

Being knee-deep in iPhone Web Development at the moment, I find myself typing the word 'iPhone' into google quite a bit. Also, for giggles, I tend to check Amazon.com frequently for keywords for upcoming books I would like to see. The main reason for that is Amazon seems to know about newly registered ISBNs well before inventory tracking systems from brick-and-mortar stores do... so searching there seems like a logical choice.

The other night I was looking to see what people were doing with regard to iPhone development and I saw a title from O'Reilly entitled "iPhone Open Application Development". From the description of the book,it describes how to create native applications for the iPhone using existing open iPhone application development frameworks. What the book description doesn't tell potential readers is that to run that code, readers would need to hack/jailbreak their iPhones, which violates their license agreement. The publication date of the book is only 15 days after the much speculated SDK release date of "end of February 2008" (which all of us take to mean February 29th...). This is not nearly enough time to convert the content of the book from working on hacking kits (like the one the author created - the author is apparently the first person to write a native iPhone app using a hacked phone) to working on the legitimate SDK.

So is O'Reilly actually condoning the hacking of the phones? O'Reilly has had a long and prestigious history as being _the_ ultimate source for *nix manuals, including many books that became so dogeared I actually bought multiple copies, including dozens of "in a nutshell" books. Back in those good old days, "hacks" which appeared in O'Reilly titles were actually just low-level down-and-dirty nuggets of pure gold that geeks and admins loved - but were all perfectly legal.

I went to O'Reilly's digital media site which hosts some blogs and I was able to find quite a few Objective-C 2.0 samples (you can tell they're 2.0 because the samples have no -release or -retain calls) for the iPhone. I can certainly say that waiting for the iPhone SDK has been one of the hardest waits in my life. The last time I was this excited about a new SDK was probably when .NET 2.0 came out, and I think even that wasn't as exciting since we already had 1.1 in our hands. But what I simply don't understand is why you would want to educate potential iPhone developers on how to make applications that will only work on the niche minority of phones that have been hacked and won't work on legitmate, up-to-date consumer phones

The other thing that troubles me about publishing code before the release of the SDK (and to be fair, it isn't just O'Reilly doing this) is that it is downright naive to assume that the code you've written now will work on the phones once the SDK comes out. Everything I've seen of the iPhone code looks really low-level, and looks like what Objective-C code looks like when you don't use Interface Builder. I think it's foolish to assume that the code people are publishing now is going to be the same development paradigm used once we get the SDK in our hands... I'll be surprised if any of these independent hack-requiring apps even load for the updated ROM image, let alone work properly.

Its one thing to litter such public code samples with disclaimers indicating that the code only works on hacked phones, etc, but you don't find that kind of disclaimer in the description of O'Reilly's book or on any of the blog posts on their site with code listings. How many potential developers might stumble upon the information on O'Reilly's site, follow the instructions to start coding, only to eventually realize that customers with unhacked phones can't run their apps??

If you want my honest opinion, I think there's two things going on here: A huge community of hacker types who having a lot of spare time on their hands who see pretty much any locked down device as a challenge, and they are posting their findings to enhance that community, and for bragging rights. Then, there's large organizations like O'Reilly that, in my opinion, are jumping on the hacking bandwagon because they know iPhone development is a huge search topic and they want a piece of the cash cow. 

Anyway, what do you think...do you think what O'Reilly and others are doing is harmless, or do you think it has the potential to confuse iPhone developers and/or do harm to the future iPhone development community as a whole? 

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More Stories By Kevin Hoffman

Kevin Hoffman, editor-in-chief of SYS-CON's iPhone Developer's Journal, has been programming since he was 10 and has written everything from DOS shareware to n-tier, enterprise web applications in VB, C++, Delphi, and C. Hoffman is coauthor of Professional .NET Framework (Wrox Press) and co-author with Robert Foster of Microsoft SharePoint 2007 Development Unleashed. He authors The .NET Addict's Blog at .NET Developer's Journal.

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Most Recent Comments
What? 03/30/08 08:04:10 PM EDT

"The last time I was this excited about a new SDK was probably when .NET 2.0 came out"

OK, that's the funniest thing I think I've ever read in one of these articles. I didn't realize how completely sarcastic it was, but then I imagined Lewis Black reading it out loud and it finally made sense. This whole article is supposed to be a joke. If that's the case, I guess I'll play along:

"Needless to say, my hopes and dreams came crumbling down when I realized that this new fangled iPhone device contained an operating system, and if that isn't bad enough, one that was based on some kinda open source garbage - not even windows CE (the nerve!). So I threw the thing out, and promptly started working on SharePoint Unleashed 2nd ed. where at least nobody has the gaul to use an undocumented API. Why are these people doing that? Huh? Why did they have to go and do that? I mean, wait for the shared source license to come out for Pete's sake."

spinron 02/25/08 02:49:00 PM EST

Having bought and read the pre-release version of the book discussed here ("Rough-Cuts" edition, available on O'Reilly's site for $20), I tend to disagree with Kevin's opinion and lean more towards the book's author's view that the "unofficial" SDK, or the at least the API represented in it, are likely to more-or-less remain equivalent to the ones that would be exposed by the official Apple iPhone SDK. The iPhone platform implements a subset of the Mac OS X API which the book describes quite nicely. Why on earth would Apple want to re-invent a new API just for the iPhone SDK, after it's worked so hard to perfect its API over a decade? For spite, just to break the existing applications and necessitate a rewrite? Not a strong argument here.

Seriously, get the rough-cuts edition now and read it. Consider it a preview for the official SDK. Most of the material it discusses is likely to remain outside the sandbox, and therefore will probably get included within the iPhone SDK.

The only thing I can see which the book doesn't cover and Apple will likely want to address in their SDK is exposition of some of data in the phone via official APIs; things like calendar entries, phone records, contacts, mail messages, and the like. The reason for this is that if you want to get this data today you'll do that by accessing these application data files directly, which breaks the sandbox model.

If you build your GUI with the unofficial SDK, it would most likely be very easy to port it over to the official SDK once it's out in the wild. I can see no reason to wait and not get started doing so now.

Endre Stølsvik 02/17/08 05:56:22 PM EST

I think this blog entry is stupid.

If you're correct, and the book is about jailbroken iPhones, I think it is really cool of O'Reilly to flip the finger at Apple's idiotic attitude.

"Confusing the developers" - are you insane or something? Do you believe that you are the only "developer" with more than about 6 brain cells? A "developer" that starts coding on an iPhone without realizing what he's really up against must be fully brain damaged.

No, no one will be confuzed. Seriously.

ColdFusion Developer's Journal - wow..

germ 02/15/08 01:29:54 AM EST

Hello? There are a million hacked iPhones out there. Hacking the iPhone is the only reason to buy it.

Brett 02/14/08 03:27:47 PM EST

Surely they can cater for the reality of iPhone usage in the market ? Hacking the phone and breaking the software license agreement isn't necessarily bad or illegal.. depends who you talk to... There are laws that support the consumer's rights to reverse-engineer their device, or to make changes to allow moving to a different carrier (eg the Digital Millennium Copyright Act). Just because it conflicts with the user's agreement with Apple doesn't make it a 'bad thing', it just means they might have to deal with some contractual consequences, or not...

Pedro 02/12/08 11:38:17 AM EST

"How many potential developers might stumble upon the information on O'Reilly's site, follow the instructions to start coding, only to eventually realize that customers with unhacked phones can't run their apps??"

I think that a person that starts writing code without even notice that it will work only with jailbreaked phones don't have any idea about iphone development and doesn't even deserve the "developer" title.

iPhone News Desk 02/12/08 08:39:30 AM EST

So is O'Reilly actually condoning the hacking of the phones? O'Reilly has had a long and prestigious history as being the ultimate source for *nix manuals, including many books that became so dogeared I actually bought multiple copies, including dozens of 'in a nutshell' books.