Saturday, April 19, 2008

Jailbroken...and Happy

I have a confession to make: I am now officially a fugitive. Last weekend, after a cross-country trip, I vowed to Jailbreak my iPhone. Not familiar with the term? It refers to a process that unlocks your iPhone so you can install programs on it, extending the functionality. Now, Apple is already moving this way with the release of the SDK, and I will be very happy to reap the benefits, but I'm a tinkerer at heart. My PC's always have custom skins, I have hacks and shortcuts in my browsers, and more. That, combined with the need to have local games (not a lot of WiFi at 30,000 ft.), sent me on a collision course with Steve & Co.

First, how do you Jailbreak an iPhone? It's surprisingly simple. First, I downloaded ZiPhone, a Windows application that made it as simple as double clicking. A couple of iPhone restarts, and I was free as a bird. The unusual part of Jailbreaking is how you get the applications after you've Jailbroken: you can really only download them with a new program on your iPhone, called Installer. It allows you to browse the applications out there, even see previews, and then download and install right from your iPhone. You can multiple sources to browse, but the ones it comes with are pretty comprehensive. Ok, so what's now on my iPhone?

- Twinkle. It's a Twitter client for the iPhone. "A Twitter client?" You say? "Why would you need that, when you can just use Twitter's spiffy iPhone online interface, or just use SMS?" All true. But Twinkle does a couple of nice things. First, it uses the iPhone's Locate Me functionality to determine where you area, and tags your Tweets with your location. You can also see people who are tweeting nearby. This was really fun when waiting for the ferry this week, and seeing tweets from other Twinklers expressing the same frustrations. Also, Twinkle allows you to upload a photo with your tweet; of course, only other Twinklers can see them, but still, there's hope for the future.

- Fring. What's the iPhone painfully missing, besides an installed version of eWallet? An IM client. Well, Fring claims to be that, and to be fair, it is. It does AIM, Yahoo, MSN, Google Talk, Skype, ICQ, Twitter...the list goes on. And, it also supposedly handles VOIP calls through SIP or Skype; I haven't tried it. The interface is OK, there's definitely a lag on sending and receiving, but it's free and it works. However, I've actually disabled most of this now, for one major reason: there is no way to control the volume of the notification when a new message comes in. As a result, when I'm riding the bike, listening to a podcast, suddenly there is a sharpened steel spike being shoved through my eardrum as Fring helpfully tells me that a new message is here. Of course, I can't read it, as I have crashed on the side of the road, gripping my skull in agony, convulsing...but hey, minor details. ;-) I do keep it on the iPhone for emergencies, though; you never know when you might need to IM.

- OK, let's talk about the best one: Genesis4iphone. Yep, travel back to the late 80's/early '90's with a perfect emulator of the classic Sega Genesis videogame system, right on your iPhone. With helpful links to ROM's, you have the entire catalog of games available. Installing them to the iPhone is not so easy; you need to download what is essentially an FTP client for your computer to install them; this video walked me through every step of it, while this video walks you through installing the games. Now, I have such classics as Lakers Vs. Bulls, Sonic the Hedgehog, Michael Jackson's Moonwalker, and both X-Men games at my fingertips, with hundreds more available. Oh, I bet you're worried about memory, right? Don't: the games are usually less than 500K, so you could install them all and still have days of music and video.

- I love skins, and even though the iPhone UI is probably the best ever, I can't resist making it better. Summerboard lets me load in custom skins, like the Time Machine one on the left (it's the one I have running right now). There are tons more, ranging from the typical "make your iPhone look like Windows" variety, to the truly sublime, like this one.

- Wouldn't you love to manage your Netflix queue with an iPhone interface? Drag movies up, shift them around, etc? iFlix has your back, and makes queue management cool.

- Volume Boost 1.1.4 lets me finally make my iPhone a little louder at the top end. When you are bombing down a hill at 40 mph on the bike, and the wind is roaring, sometimes you need a little boost to hear those Buzz Out Loud folks.

Of course, there's far more, but I can honestly say that, while I'm happy to have Jailbroken my iPhone, I expected more. Here's a note to Apple: all you would have needed to give me was an eWallet interface, a shopping list application, and games, and I probably would have stayed a happy prisoner. As it is, I'm footloose and fancy free, and browsing my Installer to see what's next.

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