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Apple risk chipped ‘n’ flashed iPhone hardware

Tuesday, 19 May 2009 — by

Apple are rumoured to be exploring the idea of launching multiple models of the iPhone, each differentiated by the software they come pre-loaded with. Sounds like a great idea! But then I hear the words “flash” and “chip” .. and no, I don’t mean the hard disk or the processor…

Apple logoRemember when “flashing” video cards was all the rage? Now you can “chip” everything from video games consoles to cars.

For those not in the know, video cards are often supplied with exactly the same hardware, the only difference being the software on each. So if you bought the entry level model, only a small portion of the hardware’s power be available to you. Pay the big money and you get everything the hardware has to give. Thing is, someone figured out a way to force the video cards to open up all of the options, so by-passing the restrictions, a technique called “flashing”.

In a similar fashion, cars are often limited, in terms of BHP (break horse power) by the EMU (Engine Management Unit), which governs the various aspects of the engine, as its name suggests. Again, someone figured out how to make the EMU open up the extra BHP reserved for the higher range models, a technique called “chipping”.

So why not the iPhone? According to sources close to Apple, differentiation by software could be in the iPhone’s future:

“… the same core hardware to which a series of different software bundles could be attached would allow Apple to combine the cost/volume benefits of producing as few models as possible with the ability to push different configurations at different kinds of customer.”

Now consider Apple’s venerable operating system, Mac OS X. Since the moment Apple switched to Intel for their microprocessors, people have been working their socks off to get OS X working on beige boxen, in total contravention of Apple’s EULA (End User License Agreement).

So if they can get OS X to work on a vanilla-flavoured PC, I don’t see any major problems for some enterprising developer getting the iPhone OS to “see” hardware Apple have told it to ignore.

And if we’re talking about hardware specific to telecommunications, the carrier partners will have a fit, especially in the US, where they are extremely restrictive on connectivity options, like Bluetooth, for example.

Let’s face it, unless Apple come up with some exceptionally novel way of nailing down the hardware of the iPhone, I’m willing to bet my pound to your penny that within the first seven days of Apple going live with such an iPhone, someone will have figured out a way to open up the otherwise locked hardware, and will have shared their exploitation with the world…

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Randall Stross → Saturday, 13 June 2009 @ 2:10 BDT

I agree with your conclusion. Especially after the DVD encryption algorithm was unlocked so easily, it would seem there is no bullet-proof protection against determined crackers of this type of protection. And the same would apply to the iPhone, in my opinion.

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