Jailbreak Makes Android a Little More Open

It seems as though the wide-open door for the Google Android-based T-Mobile G1 wasn’t nearly wide enough. Intrepid hackers have blown the door right off the hinges and shined a big spotlight inside the smartphone software. What did they find? Full root privileges to the G1 file system.

Breaking into a G1 is in some ways easier and in other ways harder than it is to jailbreak an Apple iPhone, according to a variety of reports stemming from a post on the XDA developers forum. While the Apple iPhone is relatively easy for a tech-minded consumer to do presently — it involves downloading the Pwnage tool from the iPhone Dev Team‘s site and following steps via the handy Pwnage app — actually figuring out how to pick the locks took quite a while. Plus, jailbreaking an iPhone requires changing iPhone files.

With the G1, simply follow the right steps, and access is revealed.

The process starts by downloading PTerminal from the Android Market, which is used to create a telnet connection that figures out the G1’s IP address. That, in turn, lets the user log in as root. The XDA Developers forum Web site was down at certain points on Thursday — hit by a flood of traffic, perhaps? — but modmyGphone.com has posted the instructions in more detail.

But … Why?

“Android is an open source platform with a marketplace to get apps to the device; I’m not sure what the point of ‘jailbreaking’ it is other than proving it can be done,” Avi Greengart, research director of wireless devices for Current Analysis, told LinuxInsider.

Indeed, the Android Market lets developers publish and distribute their applications without the lengthy, semi-secretive — and sometimes painful — approval process currently overseen by Apple for iPhone apps.

Of course, the Google Android Market isn’t devoid of limitations. As the Developer Distribution Agreement notes: “You agree that you will not engage in any activity with the Market, including the development or distribution of Products, that interferes with, disrupts, damages, or accesses in an unauthorized manner the devices, servers, networks, or other properties or services of any third party including, but not limited to, Android Users, Google or any mobile network operator.”

The Joys of Full Access

Complete access to a G1, then, might let users modify the phone to make it more versatile beyond the scope of T-Mobile.

“One of the benefits is to use it on another carrier, especially if you want to use the device in countries [where it’s] not offered so you don’t have to pay high roaming rates — which is something I experienced last week,” Chris Hazelton, research director of mobile and wireless for The 451 Group, told LinuxInsider.

In and of itself, this new G1 access doesn’t make it available to use on other carrier networks, but the point remains: This kind of tinkering usually progresses in steps.

Often, mobile device modders do so just for the joy of tinkering.

“There are developers who are very knowledgeable and just like to do things their own way,” Hazelton said, noting “they really want to have full control of the phone.”

Some like to customize the interface and, in some situations, remove irritating carrier menu items to get the phone to work with fewer restrictions — or to utilize abilities available in a phone that the carrier might have purposely disabled.

“Sometimes devices ship that are optimized for the carrier and not optimized for the user,” Hazelton noted. For example, “There may be some power management done by the carrier, where the user might want to be more aggressive with the performance in their phone. … Phones have shipped without HSDPA (High-Speed Data Packet Access) on. The phone might have the capability, but the carrier has set it to default to WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access), which is a little less taxing on the network.”

As for now, the biggest benefit of cracking a G1 seems to be to bypass internal storage, which limits the number of apps a user can install. Instead, a user could install applications on an SD card, giving them more room for more programs.

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