6.8.09

Apple sent my phone to jail, and why I broke it out

I've had a cell phone for about 8 years now, and have had four different carriers (well three if you don't count when AT&T bought up Cingular which had bought up AT&T Wireless years before) and seven phones. I started with Sprint back before they merged with NexTel and brought the worst of both companies together. I was quite happy with Sprint from a technical stand point, and never had to deal with their customer support. I left them to go with T-Mobile so that I was on the same network as my then girlfriend. The move was purely financial. It was just more cost effective to have unlimited calling with the person I called the most than to have a plan that provided enough minutes. When she left T-Mobile for Cingular over a really poorly handled customer service issue, I followed for the same reason I left Sprint for T-Mobile. I'd never had and real issue with T-Mobile's network, and never really had to deal with their customer service either. I'm a pretty good customer like that. If you don't give me a reason to call you, I don't call. Cingular became AT&T Mobility and I went long for the ride.

Through that trip I was a pretty picky handset owner. I never took the 'free phone', because you get what you pay for in mobile handsets. I've owned two really good Samsung handsets when I was with Sprint, basic, but good. With T-Mobile I had a Nokia 3650 which was a serious dose of awesome, and the first generation of the Motorola RAZR. To this day I still miss my 3650. When I went to Cingular I went with a Sony Ericsson W810i, which is a solid music player and has a decent FM radio. It would run a nice assortment of Java applications for using Google Maps, and a pretty good Gmail client, as well as a number of different messaging clients. It also sported a very nice 2MP camera with a very good depth of field. I still use that camera today.

I tell you all this so that you really understand where I was coming from as a handset owner. I knew what I wanted, and liked what I had. So when the iPhone first came out, it was temping, but not temping enough to pry me away from my W810i. The camera was bad to put it nicely, it was a 2G phone in a 3G world, and it couldn't run ANYTHING that Apple hadn't put on it to start with. My phone kicked it's ass in every way except it was also a 2G phone. The App store comes out, and the iPhone 3G. It was temping. Very temping. So much so that I drake the Kool-Aid and became part of the iPhone cult. I was happy with it, mostly. I still pined for the FM radio, but streaming audio took care of that, I didn't like the camera, but I still carried my W810i around to snap pictures with, so it was o'kay. Or so I thought.

Apple has always thought it knew better than it's customers what they wanted, and needed. For that most part they've made a decent business out of it. Sure they've made some mistakes, but you don't make it as far as they have without doing something right. For all the things my new phone could do, I still felt like I was missing something, but what? Well I couldn't change the ringer to anything but Apple approved ringers, but even when they fixed that I had to pay for them. I have NEVER paid for a ringer, and I certainly wasn't going to start. That was addressed, people figured out how to make iTunes upload audio as a ringer, then Garage Band picked up the ability. I still had to deal with not being able to change ANY of the other sounds my phone made. I didn't like the SMS tone, or the Mail tone. I wanted to use other sounds, but I couldn't. I wanted my phone to do other things I knew it was able to do, but Apple said no.

I wasn't the only one, though. Since the first iPhone there was a small, but growing community of people that felt the same way. This group of people who were just as much fans of the phone as I was, but much smarter, figured out how to set the handset free. Apple made no attempt to tell us what we can run on the computers they sold, yet they felt they could control what we ran on their little computers with cellular radios in them. I'm sure at least some of the restrictions they impose came from the carriers that offer their phone. That is a different topic for a different day. Some of it, though, makes no sense at all. Still, I had my iPhone 3G for nearly a year and never did more than think about jailbreaking it. Sure their were a lot of benefits, but it seemed so many people were having issues with it that it just wasn't worth it.

About two weeks ago I bought an iPhone 3Gs, and sold my 3G to a co-worker who promptly took it home, jailbroke it, and unlocked it. He is now the happy user of an iPhone 3G on T-Mobile. Sure he can only use it in EDGE mode, but he says it likes it MUCH more than the Blackberry Storm that he's been using, and I made back some of the cost of upgrading. Recently their had been more and more "Apple Rejects _insert useful application here_" stories. Some seem to be carrier pressure (so in the US that means AT&T), and some seem to be for no obvious reason at all. Since Apple won't talk about why it rejects applications, even with the people who wrote it, we can only assume they have their heads shoved squarely up their collective asses. As I said in a recent tweet which as become popular among Twitter sex spam bots, the more App Store rejection stories come out the more I think Apple has ex MPAA Ratings Board execs on staff.

The rejection of Google's own Google Voice application, and the removal of previously approved ones was the last straw. I love my phone, I've bought two versions of it. I like Apple, I currently have one desktop, one laptop, and an Apple TV (which I run boxee on). I don't think they are the end all, be all, and I know they make mistakes. Now, as with my Apple TV which I have made 10x more useful with boxee, I have made my iPhone more useful, and more fun by jailbreaking it. I just downloaded redsn0w followed the instructions, and within a few minutes I had my iPhone up and running just like it was before, but better. There are many apps available to make the phone do things that AT&T really doesn't want me doing, but for the most part I didn't care about those. I wanted to make my lock screen background show up as my background from the app launcher, so I installed Winterboard. This also allowed me to change my lockscreen charging battery icon to the Aperture Science logo, and my WiFi signal strength icon into a pineapple, or a Triforce as my mood dictates. I also use SBSettings to enable and disable all sorts of options without having to leave an application, or even unlock my screen. MobileTerminal gives me a limited but useful local terminal which I can use for remote administration as well as running nmap without having to break out my laptop. I can leave WiFi running when the phone goes to sleep, which is useful with with boxee app as I don't have to wait for it to reconnect, and my Star Trek themed sounds make me smile, because I am a geek. Sure I have things on my phone that AT&T probably wishes I didn't, like Qik (though I've yet to use it) and GV the already approved then removed Google Voice app. I also installed a package that lets me fake out specific applications so that they think they're connecting over WiFi when they are actually connecting over 3G. I mostly use this with YouTube, and some audio streaming apps that step down the quality over 3G. I've used it with Skype once, to test it. I might use it again, I might not. I roll 400+ minutes a month on my 450 minute a month plan, so I'm not hurting for minutes, but there are times when Skype would be preferred. Like if I need to reach my son, who lives in front of his computer.

There was a time when I might have felt bad about getting around these restrictions, but that was when I was just being told I couldn't make my phone go bleep when it went bloop, but when I'm not allowed to use my unlimited data plan to send the data I want, or when I can't access the services I want to access the way I want to access them on a device I bought over a service I pay for, I don't feel bad for anyone but Apple and it's various cell partners for thinking they can actually control their customers. Especially now that they've attracted the attention of the FCC in the US. It's coming to an end. Jailbreaking is so easy my dad could do it, and the US government is coming down on cell companies from all directions. Either the companies will back down gracefully, or they'll be regulated to. It's just a shame it has had to come to this at all.

So why did I set my iPhone free? Not to 'stick it to the man', or even to hear the Star Trek communicator chirp when I get a message, but because it is just one of the many computers I own and like the others I will run what I want, when I want, and how I want. Anything else is unacceptable.

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