update An Australian network engineer has designed and built a serial port extension for Apple handhelds, including the iPad, that is set to spell the death of laptops in datacentres.
(It works! image © 2010 Chris Pollock. Used with permission of Chris Pollock. All rights reserved.)
Designer and network engineer Chris Pollock, who will sell the devices for about $50 through his site, IoNetworks, built the device after becoming frustrated at having to cart a bulky laptop into a datacentre in order to access serial ports on networking equipment.
"For the last six years, I've been able to use SSH [Secure Shell] from my phone and so the idea of carrying a laptop into the datacentre has become less and less necessary," Pollock said.
"But we are carrying around a few kilos of laptop just to use the USB or serial converter to log into the consoles of routers and switches.
"I'm using Terminal and SSH on my phone already. The only thing that is stopping me ditching my laptop altogether is the serial port."
Pollock offered his fellow engineers instructions of how to make the devices in his blog, with colleagues' voices of approval coupled with cash as orders flooded in.
"I put the word out [to peers] if anyone wanted one and had about 20 orders in an hour. I'm doing circuit boards now and looking to sell something in about a month or so."
He tried for months to purchase an equivalent device from Redpark after its launch caused a buzz in February, but said stalling from Apple meant the product still cannot be sold. Pollock said the company also declined to manufacture the device in an unofficial method similar to his.
(Wire it up image © 2010 Chris Pollock. Used with permission of Chris Pollock. All rights reserved.)
Pollock plans to fettle the bare-metal creation and design a casing to resemble Apple's hallmark cynosure ivory. He said he has the contacts to design a device as slick as the offering from Redpark.
But he will not have to worry with meddling from the top of town; his device requires iPhones to be jailbroken by the user, thus avoiding the need to seek Apple's blessing to access the serial port.
"I don't need that hassle. I just jailbroke the phone to access the serial port and built my own cable."
He also does not as yet intend to make an application for Apple's online marketplace, therefore forgoing the wait of its approval process.
The composite TTL converter-breakout board device, as yet unnamed, works on all Apple iPod Touchs, iPhones and iPads, using the embedded serial port used by some third-party technologies such as GPS units and by Apple to Flash firmware for repairs.
(Plug it in image © 2010 Chris Pollock. Used with permission of Chris Pollock. All rights reserved.)
Although jailbreaking was ruled legal in US courts, it voids the Apple warranty. Traces may remain in the registry and file system if the jailbreak is removed.
Other modified devices have used the Apple serial port for hardware control, such as running applications for Arduino boards, but it seems Pollock's kit will be the first network controller to hit the market.
Apple spokesperson Fiona Martin said jailbreaking can destabilise the devices.
"Apple's goal has always been to ensure that our customers have a great experience with their iPhone and we know that jailbreaking can severely degrade the experience. As we've said before, the vast majority of customers do not jailbreak their iPhones as this can violate the warranty and can cause the iPhone to become unstable and not work reliably," Martin said.
Redpark said it is in the midst of developing several official serial connector products for Apple devices.
"We are conducting our work within Apple's Made for iPod (MFI) program. There is no need to hack or jailbreak the iPhone, iPad or iPod touch," the spokesperson said in an email.
"We plan to release products later this quarter. Our products will be designed to work with specific iOS applications in in order to comply with MFI policy."
Pollock's device components can be acquired for around $20. He bought all parts from Jaycar, Ridax and eBay.
Updated at 12.20pm, 29 October 2010: added information from Redpark on its Apple offerings.