The Personal Responsibility of Hacking an iPhone

by Mike Shea on 6 October 2007

Earlier this year I tried my best to break away from commercial software and commercial products to build a home media system on opensource software. I failed. I wanted a box for my TV, a computer system, and a portable device all capable of sharing movies, TV shows, music, audiobooks, and podcasts. I used Ubuntu for a core system, an Mvix media player for my TV box, and an iPod for my portable device. It didn't work. I couldn't get the devices to connect properly. I couldn't get a good source for new media. I couldn't get each device to act reliably without extensive and continuous tweaking.

At that moment, I made a decision. Whenever possible, my data should be built on open standards but the devices themselves and the software they use can be closed. I switched from Ubuntu to Apple. I bought a Macbook Pro, an Apple TV, and an iPhone. While some may have tried to sell Apple as a tree-hugging hippy company of hugs, I knew Apple to be a closed controlling architecture. Their iPod only ever reliably used iTunes. Their music, movies, and TV shows come encased in DRM. Their OS is closed source and the interconnections between devices are proprietary. I knew this when I bought it.

Most of all I wanted a reliable system that would let me play what I wanted to play where I wanted to play it without extensive tweaking. For the most part, I received that.

When I originally read about the iPhone, I knew it was a closed device. It doesn't even appear as a disk so I can copy files on it. The OS isn't really known. There is very little ability to customize it or add new programs. Guess what, I don't want any of that. I wanted a phone and an iPod and a portable web browser. That is what I received.

If I wanted an open hackable device, a device I could tweak ten times more than actually use, there are about a thousand other cell phones, media players, or PDAs that offer that. I wanted a sleek system designed both in hardware and software to work well.

It makes little business sense for Apple to brick iPhones when someone hacks them or even attempts to use another carrier. However, I would not expect Apple to work very hard to help those who chose to crack the device. Changing carriers isn't the same as installing a piece of software on a PC. You are using the device well outside of the original design and original agreement when you purchased it. That doesn't mean you shouldn't be able to - hack the thing all you want. Just don't blame Apple when it stops working.

If you use a device outside of the original design of that device, you should be responsible for it. More and more in this country I see people passing off their own personal responsibility to others. This is why breasts became the new weapon of mass destruction after Janet Jackson's superbowl. This is why New York tried to make it a felony to sell a game to a kid even though drunk driving is not. More and more we pass fault to others.

To those who hacked their iPhone, go right ahead. It's your device and your hardware. Hack the hell out of it. Just don't pass your personal responsibility to Apple when your hacked $400 device stops working.

Apple isn't a flawless company. They have a lot of room to improve with all of their devices and software, but blaming them when you break your own toy is irresponsible.

Embrace personal responsibility or the government will embrace it for you.

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