Software and Hardware hackers will view the iPad as the latest vehicle for their collective cracking genius. What sort of Apple-unauthorized gifts can we expect to see from our underground friends?
My iPad hasn't even arrived yet, but I'm already thinking of the ways that our friends in the underground community have been plotting about how they're going to have their way with Apple's sweet little virgin tablet computer.
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Jailbreaking, the practice in which previous iDevices have been "freed" from Apple app store lockdown and permit the installation of unauthorized independent and unapproved applications will be the first hurdle to overcome in order to enable any other software hacks on the iPad. It has been recently estimated that out of the 42 million iPhones sold, approximately 3.5 million have been jailbroken, or roughtly 8 percent.We can expect to see any number of iPhone-derived Jailbreaking techniques on the iPad, some more or less invasive than others. Recently, one of the most prominent iPhone hackers, George Hot, also known as "Geohot" recently came up with unique "untethered" jailbreaking approach that could also be applied to iPad, since it runs a similar OS and runtime environment.
Root Level Command Shell and CLI Userspace Tools
With a Jailbreak it is reasonable to assume that as with the iPhone, it will be possible to make the iPad a fully liberated general computing environment complete with a UNIX command shell and other key userspace command-line utilities (such as the SSH client and daemon) in order to make the device a full-blown UNIX machine.
Integrating access to the full command-line UNIX shell was accomplished on the iPhone way back in 2007 and will be one of the first things that hackers will need to do in order to enable more sophisticated customization and jailbroken applications on the iPad.
Alternative Programming Language and Runtime Support
Given the large amount of Open Source code available, it is not unreasonable to assume that we will see Python, PHP, Rails and a full implementation of OpenJDK built and optimized for the iPad. This will open up the iPad to a wide variety of software that it otherwise would not be able to run.
Indeed, GCC, Python and other Open Source critical "toolchain" components have already been used and built by the author of Cydia, Jay Freeman (aka "Saurik"), in order to create Jailbroken applications for the iPhone.
In addition to creating cross compilers on other OSes to create native Jailbroken iPad ports of support libraries for new programming languages and apps, it is also possible that the iPad itself may have the capability of becoming self-hosting.
In other words, it might be possible or even attractive given the computing power of the device to build and compile code on the device itself.
It should also be noted that it will be possible without Jailbreaking to write native .NET code for the iPad (and iPhone) using the new Monotouch framework, a commercial product developed by Novell. which uses its own integrated Open Source development environment, Monodevelop.
[UPDATE 3/31: Although Monodevelop is cross-platform and Open Source and can build Mono/.NET apps on Linux and Windows as well, the Monotouch SDK itself for creating iPhone/iPad apps is commercially licensed and requires a Mac with with the native version of Monodevelop as well as the iPhone/iPad SDK.]
Alternative Browsers with Flash and Other Plugins
Once the actual Jailbreaking technique is established, this opens up the floodgates for many applications that folks willing to risk the procedure are likely to want. One of those will be alternative web browsers that have support for web plugins that Safari and Apple won't support.
The first alternative browser is likely to be a community port of Chromium, the Open Source basis for Google's Chrome. Once this browser is ported, it is likely that some sort of Flash support will be made available. While Adobe does not currently offer Flash as Open Source, and is unlikely to release any internal port into the wild, there are other Flash implementations, although incomplete, such as Gnash which may enable some Flash-enabled content on various web sites.
Unauthorized/Underground Media Players
Jailbreaking will enable the use of media players or add-on video codecs that are capable of displaying content procured from the seedier underbelly of the net. This content would be mainly pirated and stripped video files in Xvid, DivX and other popular non-Apple MPEG-4 formats that are distributed over the Bittorrent networks.
Content Control Bypass
Once the device is Jailbroken, depending on how the Regional Content Review lock-outs are accomplished, it may be possible to bypass these controls using some sort of a API spoof or code inject that could fool these applications into thinking they are running on devices other than an iPad. This would permit otherwise restricted content from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Zinio and other providers to display on iPads unrestricted.
With the ability to build unrestricted code to run on the unit, this opens up an entire area of software that would never see the light of day on the App Store, such those used for wardriving and wireless network penetration and sniffer applications such as Kismet which would allow the Wi-Fi transceiver to run in promiscuous mode.
Additionally, it is likely we will see other hackerware tools such as NMAP or perhaps something even as sophisticated as Wireshark for wireless network packet level analysis that could be ported over directly from Mac OS X using native Cocoa APIs.
With the beautiful 9.7" LED-backlit IPS screen, those folks with a hankering for nostalgia will see the iPad as the ultimate emulator platform, specifically for those classic computer systems, gaming set-tops and coin-ops that everyone loves.
One of the first emulator ports is likely to be MAME, which was already ported to iPhone, so it will be a fairly academic effort for the developers to make an "HD" version of this software. MAME supports thousands of ROM files from classic coin-op games.
In addition to MAME, we can also expect loads of ports of emulation software for the various legacy Nintendo consoles and handhelds, as well as classic Motorola 68000-based computers including the Amiga, the Atari ST, the Apple II, Commodore 64, classic Mac, and even Palm OS.
OS Replacement Using Google Android, Chrome OS and Linux
In addition to a port of Google's Chromium browser, it is also not unreasonable to assume that once the hackers figure out how to Jailbreak and get JTAG access to the iPad and understand the chipsets in use, they will be able to replace the OS entirely with an embedded Linux distribution or even a complete environment such Android provided a bootloader and all the kernel drivers are in place for the iPad's hardware. Another possibility would be a Chrome OS port, using the Chromium OS project source code.
In addition to making substantive alterations to the iPad's OS and software, ambitious hackers will also be looking to make modifications to the iPad's hardware itself.
USB/SD Card Exploits
It is not fully known yet what the full extent of the "Camera Connection kit" functionality on the iPad will provide out of the box, but almost certainly it will not allow the device to use inexpensive SD cards and USB devices as commodity extra storage such as on other smartphones and MIDs.
Since we know that the iPad is electronically capable of acting as a USB host and interfacing with SD cards using this kit, it would probably only require some simple driver work or perhaps even OS configuration file tweaking for a hacker to turn an SDHC camera card (now shipping in 16GB sizes for under $40 each) into a block storage device that is accessible directly by the user, or even allow large USB-powered SSDs to be used on the device.
Potentially, this could even allow a small USB webcam to be strapped to the device and permit video calls over Skype and other networks, or physical game controllers to be attached to the unit, although the latter is something potentially that Apple may want to license legally to accessory developers/manufacturers.
CPU Frequency Adjustment
While the iPad is the fastest mobile device that Apple has shipped yet with its 1Ghz A4 CPU, there will always be those folks that want to exact even more performance out of their units.
CPU frequency adjustment on the iPhone and iPod Touch has only yielded marginal results. Indeed, the Samsung ARM processor used in the current generations of those devices are adjusted below their normal capabilities (The S5PC100 in the iPhone 3G S runs at 667Mhz but is actually a 833Mhz CPU) and hackers have had variable results at manipulating it.
CPU frequency adjustment may be of more benefit on the iPad, which is going to be used as more of a general computing device and will have more demanding applications running on it.
Once Jailbroken, It may be possible to manipulate the A4 clock cycles on the iPad such as underclocking to increase battery life when reading ebooks, or for overclocking to increase game performance.
What iPad hacks would you like to see or that I've managed to leave out? Talk Back and Let Me Know.
Disclaimer: The postings and opinions on this blog are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.