Apple, Open Up

I’ve had many computers in my life. I grew up with the Commodore Vic-20, the Coleco Adam, the Apple ][ series. In particular, I spent most of my adolescent and teen years on an Apple //c, in fact, this same computer took me right through my early University years.

Apple //c

I remember exploring my computer as a kid. My //c had a few hardware issues along the way, and instead of asking my parents to fix these issues, I turned first to my own experimentation. Without any knowledge (or thought about safety), I took my //c apart numerous times and was always able to fix any issues.

So in a sense, maybe this has been Apple’s strategy all along. If you keep things locked up, eventually adolescent boys will want to “get in”, play around and fix things to make them work better. It seems to be working. After all, it took only a 13yr old hacker to unlock the iPod Touch. OK … I’m thinking that hypothesis is quite unlikely.

My New iPod Touch - Perfection

I recently purchased an iPod Touch. I must admit, Apple designs beautiful products (even the //c was amazing for its day). Out-of-the-box, I was able to do the following with my new device:

    - play music, podcast and video files,
    - browse Youtube directly,
    - browse iCal (calendar) events, contacts,
    - browse the web via Safari, and
    - use a few other basic applications (e.g., clock, calculator)

Things I could not do out-of-the-box include:

    - checking mail through Mac Mail mobile application,
    - adding calendar items,
    - viewing weather data,
    - using a notes application,
    - browsing a mapping application,
    - checking the status of my current stocks, and
    - add any third-party applications.

The iPod Touch is capable of using virtually all iPhone applications, but these have been disabled. I understand Apple’s business model, and I assume that they are doing this as to not cannibalize the sales of their iPhone. However, in doing so, they are missing out on a huge opportunity for educational uses of these devices. More so, we’re missing out (i.e., faculty, teachers, students) on what this could bring for mobile learning

Within about a week of owning my iPod Touch, I felt that I could no longer be locked down. It is my right as the owner of this device to use it in anyway I wish (of course, without harming others). I understand that it is not within my rights to distribute the code. Therefore, I am not distributing it, but simply, linking to it.

Unlocking and adding third party apps to the iPod Touch is incredibly simple. The process is automated through downloadable software called iJailbreak. There is a slight possibility of “bricking” your device, but this can be corrected through a firmware restore process. Once the jailbreaking process is complete, you will now have many of the iPhone apps on your iPod Touch. Additionally, you will have greater control of your device, will be able to automatically (and easily) install any new apps and also be able to FTP in to your device.

The only thing that was not resolved by the Jailbreak process was the Calendar function, the ability to add events to your Calendar from the Touch. While it has been widely reported that this was a bug and that Apple had intended to allow this functionality, the “fix” shows pretty clearly that this was intentional. Enabling this feature involves nothing more than getting into plist code, and changing a preference to “true”.

So, Steve, why do we have to play these games? The iPod Touch is an amazing product. For just over $300, Apple has designed a beautiful mobile device which features rich multimedia, web browsing, email and data entry. For the price of 4-5 fat clients in a classroom (an approach that is popular in my parts), you can equip 20 students with these devices. There is so much lost potential here. C’mon Apple, open up!

Update: Even an easier, one-step iPod Touch/iPhone hack has been developed. Simply point navigate your Touch/iPhone to http://jailbreakme.com. Read about this here.

  • Irma

    Thank you for this very informative blog. We talked about the new i-touch last night and what all it’s abilities would be. We didn’t know all the answers and as usual the kids said “ask your prof”.
    I agree with you that this has so much potential and how much longer do we have to wait for a advice that is teaching friendly. Needless to say I think the “quest” for devices that live up to all our expectations will always be in the process of development. Will they (apple, microsoft and ….) really start to develop something that there is not a market for yet??

    Way to go Alec, speak up so the word gets out.

  • http://mlearning.edublogs.org Leonard Low

    Thanks for your insight Alec – it echoes what I wrote when I first looked at the iPod Touch, particularly with reference to this device’s potential for mobile learning, which I blogged here: http://mlearning.edublogs.org/2007/09/06/dont-be-dazzled/

    Let’s hope that with enough disappointment in their current philosophy of control and profiteering, Apple will embrace openness…