The mobile device is dead! Long live the mobile device!

Date December 31, 2008

My blackberry died at a particularly inopportune moment over the holiday weekend. Specifically sometime between when I went to bed on the 25th and when the firewall cluster members decided to kill each other on the 26th. In any event, I didn't find out about it until nearly noon, which is Not Good(tm).

To rectify the situation, I got permission to go buy another phone, and I cleared it with the president to pick up an iPhone, since there were a lot of positive responses when I asked, way back in November. Matt's response in particular swayed my opinion.

In the intervening week, I have to say that I've become pretty attached to the thing. With some additional apps from the AppStore (if you're considering getting an iphone, prepare to hear that phrase a lot), it becomes much easier to type mail (get Firemail for landscape typing), there are free RDP, VNC, ssh (touchterm), and other apps as necessary, and best of all, there are built-in settings for VPN (IPSec, PPTP, and L2TP). Browsing the web using Safari in landscape mode makes even Opera mini on the Blackberry look like masochism.

In fact, the only complaint that I have is that the notification options suck. Apple really, really dropped the ball with the configuration options for notifications. You can change ringtones for phone calls and text messages, but you cannot change ringtones or adjust volume for incoming email. At all. And the default notification is a quiet, polite "blip", which doesn't wake me up at 3am. And that's a deal breaker.

Before I took my iPhone back, I wanted to try everything, so I decided to jailbreak (I used quickpwn for Windows) it and see what I could change. The process went very, very smoothly (as soon as I realized the the "power" button is the one on the top right that you click to lock the phone).

I used Cydia (the jailbreak equivalent of the App Store) to install OpenSSH on the phone:

Matt-Simmons:/usr root# uname -a
Darwin Matt-Simmons 9.4.1 Darwin Kernel Version 9.4.1: Sat Nov 1 19:09:48 PDT 2008; root:xnu-1228.7.36~2/RELEASE_ARM_S5L8900X iPhone1,2 arm N82AP Darwin

and used that to sftp in and copy the ringtone to my desktop, which I then modified using Audacity to increase the volume and added a double beat to the beginning, so that it now goes "chi-ching!". Saved that, exported it as an AIFF file, renamed it to the original new-mail.caf and then dragged it back across the sftp pipe to the phone. Sent an email to myself, and I'm now guaranteed to be woken up if I get mail at night.

I should really look into getting a dev kit for the phone. It would be really handy to support actual profiles and to use the GUI to set things like this up. There is a local terminal app available, but it doesn't appear to be supported on my firmware. I'm sure it'll be updated shortly.

Anyone else have any neat tricks for a jailbroken iPhone?

  • Amy

    The app store is one of my favorite things with the iPhone, but I agree that some of the applications for the iPhone should be already in the settings, and you shouldn't have to jailbreak the phone.

    However, the fact that you can mostly customize the phone is a good direction for Apple to go in. It's nice that it's pretty much a little computer, and that you can customize it to make it a phone that plays games, or does work, etc.

  • Matt

    @Amy

    I agree. I can't see how Apple would overlook something so very basic as volume control on an alert. Glad the hackers out there figured out the jailbreak though!

  • Ben C

    A lot of my friends have iPhones, and they're pretty happy, but I've been trying to keep a level head about replacing my BlackBerry 8700. It doesn't have 3G support, which was not an issue until 3G arrived in my city this fall. The iPhone seems pretty snazzy, but I also need it to be pager-esque. I don't care to know when my LogWatch e-mails come in every morning, but if I get an outage notification, I want to know.

    I had originally planned to get an iPhone at the beginning of 2009, but now I think I'll wait a few more months and see if any more Android phones hit the streets. It seems like that would give me a lot more flexibility from the start.

  • Matt

    @Ben

    Is your blackberry capable of filtering mail client side? I've not seen a phone capable of doing that (or even altering the alert based on the content of a message), but it would be immensely handy for admin types.

  • Ben C

    @Matt

    My BB has some limited filtering. What I've done is to have all outage notifications sent to a different address and then any mail sent to that address is marked as a "Level 1 Message." Then in the profile settings, I give Level 1 Messages an obnoxious alert tone which is turned all the way up. It's worked pretty well for me.

  • Matt

    That's a good idea! I know you can configure multiple accounts on the BB, but I'm 99.99% sure that there's only one messaging option, and by option, I mean soundfile. Hrmmm....the iphone just needs a better mail client.

  • Anonymous

    You should defiantly try out PDANet from June Fabrics. Allows you to utilize your 3G Data Plan for wireless tethering to any WIFI computer. Works great in a pinch when you need Internet access, and need it NOW.

  • Matt

    @Anonymous

    That looks pretty smooth, though it only works for a handful of devices. If I had a treo, I'd be sorely tempted to get it.

    We've evaluated a few mobile internet options. One that our president liked was the USBconnect 881 (no longer available new)

    It was compatible with Mac & PC, and worked well in Europe.

  • Les

    After I jailbroke my iPhone I installed intelliscreen; It gives you missed calls, sms messages, email, calender, rss feeds, weather, and dialing from the iPhone lock screen. NemusSync lets you sync the calendar with a google calendar.

    winterboard allows you to install themes and "catagories" lets you to group your icons so it is easier to find stuff. I use sbsettings to replace the settings app for one click access to turn on/off wifi, bluetooth, 3g, and openssh server.

    Everything I installed is listed in Cydia.

  • Matt

    @Les

    Thanks for the tips! I've got categories and winterboard installed, but I didn't see intelliscreen or sbsettings, and those sound great.

    Do you do any remote admin with your iphone? I haven't setup the VPN yet, but I figure I'll work on that in a week. If I succeed, I'll post the settings required to make it happen, but I'm definitely open to existing documentation ;-)

  • Les

    @Matt:

    Yes, but I do everything over ssh. I use TouchTerm to ssh into my dekstop at work and then into the various machines from there as they are firewalled from the internet. I am a Unix/Linux admin if you had not guessed.

    When I need to admin our VMware cluster I use my laptop and tunnel X over the ssh connection.

    I opened Cydia and choose Search, both apps show up. When you search for SBSettings you will have to scroll down to the "S" heading because all the plugins and themes show up in the results.

    http://www.intelliborn.com is the homepage for intelliscreen.

  • Matt

    @Les

    Thanks! I found it. I think that I was looking under "Featured" instead of the big list of all software.

    I'm really digging the iphone since I got the notification volume increased. Thanks again for your help!