By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
October 9, 2007

Columbus Day was a busy one for the two dozen or so renegade programmers who have taken it upon themselves to re-do what Apple (AAPL) undid with its latest software update for the iPhone. Firmware update 1.1.1, released 10 days earlier, had wiped out virtually every unauthorized program written for the device.

At noon yesterday, Erica Sadun, a writer and programmer who has emerged as the unofficial spokesperson for the so-called iPhone Dev team, announced on
The Unofficial Apple Weblog
(tuaw.org) that her “guys” had managed to “jailbreak 1.1.1” — opening a crack in the updated iPhone’s firmware that might allow some of the third-party applications to slip back in.

“Right now,” she wrote, “they’re nowhere near releasing a general-use tool but the first steps have been made. Congratulations to dinopio, asap18, netkas, Martyn, mjc, Niacin, BloomFilter, pytey, tE_gU, pumpkin, roxfan, sam, SmileyDude, NerveGas, Nate True, Arminius, DirectriX, Edgan, ixtli, kroo, xorl, and the rest of the team.” (link)

By 8:25, Sadun was able to announce that iPhone hacker asap18 had managed to seize control of SpringBoard — the iPhone’s home screen — and port up to 15 third-party apps onto the device. By early evening, several of these apps had been tested and were working fine.

Meanwhile, in separate news flash, Sadun reported that the iPod Touch — the top-of- the-line multi-touch iPod that had so far resisted hacking — had also been hacked. At 8:00 pm she wrote:

It looks like iPod touch hacker Niacin has achieved read access to the iPod touch root. Following up on the iPhone jailbreak earlier today, this is another step forward into opening up both the iPhone and iPod touch for general read-write access and third party application support. More news as it develops. (link)

This news is particularly significant because although the iPod touch has all the capabilities it needs to be a general purpose Wi-Fi pda, Apple has not provided the applications — a Mail client chief among them — that would allow it to be used as such.

(Note that none of these developments affect iPhones unlocked to work with carriers other than AT&T. They are still “bricked” by update 1.1.1.)

The problem with both the iPhone and iTouch breakthroughs is that they are dependent on the so-called TIFF exploit in Safari — a security hole that was first reported more than a year and a half ago and has long since been closed in other platforms. It’s probably only a matter of weeks before Apple issues another software update that shuts it down — and wipes out the third-party apps one more time.

How long Sadun’s friends have the energy to keep playing cat-and-mouse with Steve Jobs’ programmers remains to be seen.

See also How Apple “Bricked” the iPhone.

[Image of third-party iPhone apps courtesy of tuaw.com.]

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