iPad hacks for fun and profit

iPad hacks for fun and profit

Summary: 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?


Special Report: Apple iPad

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.

Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.

Software Hacks


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.

In addition to the Jailbreak itself we can also expect a full iPad port of Cydia, the unofficial Jailbroken app store whidh is already in use by over 1.6 million Apple devices.

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.

The iPhone OS is a derivative of Mac OS X which has a kernel and OS core that is based on Darwin and the XNU kernel, itself a hybridized derivative of and BSD and Mach.

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

Out of the box, the official programming languages for the iPad are Objective-C using Xcode and locally installed web applications which support Javascript and the Webkit features of the Mobile Safari browser. However, a Jailbroken iPad could potentially run a myriad of other programming languages and runtime environments provided they were ported.

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.

A full Chromium port would also open the iPad up to other popular plugins/extensions, such as XMarks and AdBlock, as well as Java Web Start applications if a local JVM such as OpenJDK was available.

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.

The first likely port would be VLC, which has already been unofficially ported for iPhone and is distributed on Cydia. Another possibility is MPlayer, which has also been ported to the iPhone.

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.

Hardware Hacks

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.

Topics: Storage, Apple, Hardware, Operating Systems, Software


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • iJoke

    "What iPad hacks would you like to see or that I?ve managed to leave out? "

    Wipe the iPhone OS and replace with Windows 7 ... wait, the HP Slate is coming for that ... a far better device, than this joke.
  • RE: iPad hacks for fun and profit

    Why not crack Google Maps for worldwide voice guidance?

    Except Google will probably shut it down like they did to
    Android users in Europe.

    You might even get Ap****us so you can download pirated Apps and
    avoid giving money to those pesky, App Store developers.

    btw, which Mac will you use to run Geohot's jailbreaking software?

    A MacBook Pro should do the trick.

  • Tempting... and inevitable

    While some of this stuff is bad news, a lot of it will just be a reaction to Apple's stubbornness.

    I won't quite go as far as saying "Apple deserves whatever they get when people inevitably hack their device", because its not completely true. But it IS inevitable, and many of the additional potential capabilities are too damn tempting. Being able to use SD cards ALONE (presumably via some custom build cabling) would be almost irresistible, as would ANY hack that makes Hulu run on the iPad (rather than having to fork extra money over to Apple for whatever Apple TV /Itunes variant they wind up delivering).

    And yes, when the current iPad model gets old and crispy, and Apple support for it inevitably gets left behind, you just KNOW those alternate operating system configs, some Ubuntu port or something, will be lovely.
    Snark Shark
    • Apple's stubborness

      Apple is no more stubborn than other console manufacturers (let's face it, the iPad and iPod touch are really just hand held consoles). Hacking and piracy rates on the iDevices are no higher than other consoles, in the fact piracy rates are much higher on the Nintendo DS. Many people like to hack and jailbreak the Xbox's, DS, Wii etc. Probably the main thing these people want is free games, which, as you say, is "too damn tempting".

      Does Apple "deserve what it gets". No more so than its competitors, I think. But piracy does not hurt Apple or Nintendo, but small developers.
      The Star King
      • Exactly Right

        These are simple value propositions. Apple does not deny anyone's
        right to anything. They simply offer a product that meets certain
        human needs. It has a sticker price, and if it is not seen as worthwhile
        it need not be purchased.

        Jason Perlow has prepurchased an item that isn't even shipping yet. He
        has been preemptively critical of it before he's had a chance to use it.
        He has accused Apple of censorship before having been "censored",
        and now he has listed all the ways in which both hardware and
        software and licensing can be altered bypassed and ignored.

        The iPad is capable of being a economic engine in itself and a primary
        distribution channel for creative content and innovative software. It
        could support thousands of small businesses. What we get from
        Perlow is a laundry list on how to subvert it. I have no problem with
        hacking as a hobby, but this blog is cynical and critical of any
        technology that presents legal barriers to Jason Perlow reselling it.

        Open source did not produce an iPad. All the content providers are
        rallying around a strong brand, a great store, and a commitment to
        the customer experience. They have and will be rewarded as
        contributors. I don't see this as Jason's righteous fight against a
        unreasonable censor. I see this as sanctimonious, and I see the thinly
        veiled call to arms for hackers as what it is. Parasitic.
  • RE: iPad hacks for fun and profit

    Very intelligent iPad article. However, everyone is intent on blowing @geohot ego even more than it already is. As now noticed his Blackra1n JB is the only one which isn't working with the iTunes 9.1 update at the moment and he has single handedly caused Sony to remove a feature that many people rely on.

    The jailbreak devteam is more than just one person, many hackers work together, questioning and challenging each other, to open exploits and make well thought out and planned releases, something that one person alone can not do.

    Hopefully the iPad jailbreak will be the result of a team effort, and credit not just given to one individual.
    • Apple's custom made A4 SOC

      May be a cause for some consternation for the j/b community.

      It will interesting to see what secrets it holds, given that there have been
      no concrete details released yet.

      Custom hardware could have more DRM than Blu-Ray.
      • So DRM is good now?

        [i]Custom hardware could have more DRM than Blu-


        Cue the double standards...
  • RE: iPad hacks for fun and profit

    It seems to me Gnash should be made available as an app on the App Store. I don't see why apple should reject such a program provided it complies with standards. It's open source so Apple can't complain it might do unexpected things. This would work rather like the youtube application on iPhone.

    Some of the emulators are already available through the app store such as the commodore 64 emulator. Also several games like Sonic the Hedgehog are available on the iPhone and these are based on an emulator I believe. Some point and click games have also been released and these are based on the scummvm emulator (which implements, among other things, the SCUMM scripting language used by Monkey Island and so on).

    None of these emulators allow users to develop original code however. They all come packaged with specific game(s) and the user is not aware that an emulator is running.
    The Star King
  • RE: iPad hacks for fun and profit

    Do you know how they estimate 3.5 million jailbroken phones, but only 1.6 million on Cydia? I did notice the link dates back 12 months, but also noticed Saurik this morning said 1.37 million ECID on file. I can understand a small number of devices being outside Cydia, but surely not less than half?
  • RE: iPad hacks for fun and profit

    ... 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...

    Well, with a simple JTAG cable (like this one http://jtagcables.com/jtag-cable) and some software it is possible to do magic. You only need some experience with JTAG devices.