Six hacks for your mobile gear

These six hacks unleash the hidden power in your mobile gadgets.

Unlock an iPhone and Install Unofficial Apps

Difficulty: Hard; Time: 2.5 hours

Despite its coolness factor, the Apple iPhone comes with way too many restrictions. You're locked into AT&T service, for starters. On top of that, Apple says that it must approve all software before anyone can use the programs. But with this iPhone hack, you'll be able to swap in a different SIM from another provider. In addition, you'll have access to new software tools--such as one that gives you the ability to share the iPhone's mobile Internet connection with a laptop--that AT&T doesn't permit.

As of this writing, you can hack both the original iPhone and the newer 3G iPhone to give them access to new software, but with this hack only the original handset can accept other SIM cards.

The hack requires a Mac in order to work. The process will void your warranty, and there's a small chance that you'll damage the phone in a way that prevents your restoring the handset from a backup. At the very least, before you dive in, sync your iPhone with iTunes and then Ctrl-click the phone name to create a software backup.

A program called PwnageTool performs the hack. You'll also need original firmware for the iPhone. If you're lucky, you'll have a recent version of it in Users, Username, Library, iTunes, iPhone Software Updates. Otherwise, click your phone, and select the Restore button in iTunes to download the latest file to that location. Next, search online for "bl39.bin and bl46bin iPhone boot-loader download" and grab copies of those two files. Now verify that the .ipsw and .bin files you downloaded will work, by checking the list on the PwnageTool Web site.

Launch PwnageTool and choose your iPhone. Click the right arrow for the next page. PwnageTool should find the .ipsw file automatically (if it doesn't, browse to the file manually). Select the file and click the right arrow. It'll ask for the bootloaders; click No to skip the search, and enter where they're stored locally. Then click Yes to create the new iPhone .ipsw firmware file. You will be prompted for your admin password.

After the tool tells you to connect the phone, follow the on-screen instructions to turn it off, push the power button followed by the home button, and then release the buttons in that order.

Back in iTunes, hold down the Option key and click Restore. Choose the new, PwnageTool-created firmware on your desktop, and click Open. After several minutes, iTunes will restart the phone and will prompt you for a backup file to restore your old data on the hacked phone. Choose one if you want, or skip the prompt to start fresh.

A utility called Cydia will have been installed on the iPhone. It downloads unapproved software directly to the handset, but you'll still be able to buy programs through the App Store. And if you've hacked an original iPhone, you can now make calls on it with any active GSM SIM card.

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Zack Stern

PC World (US online)
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