Palm appears to be giving tacit approval to groups trying to hack the Palm Pre and Palm’s new handset operating system, WebOS. The Pre Dev Wiki says it received a note from Palm warning the hackers not to try to unlock the Pre’s tethering ability during the handset’s exclusivity period with Sprint. Tethering lets your mobile device double as a modem for wireless Internet access.
Palm apparently said Sprint could force the Pre maker to take legal action against the Pre Dev Wiki if tethered Pre devices start popping up on Sprint’s Now Network. Sprint allows several tethered phones under its “Phone As Modem” plan, but the Pre is not one of them.
It’s no surprise that Sprint would want to protect its bandwidth by controlling how many devices can access its Internet connectivity, but what is surprising is the reaction from the hackers.
In response to Palm’s takedown request, the Pre Dev Wiki has removed any references to Pre tethering from its forums, because the group says it wants “to retain a good relationship with Palm.” That’s right, a group of hackers wants to stay on good terms with the company that makes the device they’re hacking. What’s more, Palm’s friendly, don’t-make-us-sue-you nudge suggests the company is content to let the hackers tinker away.
Apple tells a different story
Apple, on the other hand, has a very different “relationship” with the iPhone Dev Team, a group of hackers dedicated to hacking the iPhone and iPod Touch. The Dev Team is currently playing a game of cat-and-mouse with Apple over the Dev Team’s software-based jailbreak for the iPhone 3G, YellowSn0w.
Official statements have been scarce, but Apple’s actions make it clear the company is not a fan of jailbreaking. A recent example is Cupertino’s court battle with the Electronic Frontier Foundation over the EFF’s proposal to legalize iPhone jailbreaking. The reason Apple wants to maintain control over the iPhone is clear. The iPhone and the iPhone App Store have become a major revenue stream for Apple, and Cupertino is wary of competing with rogue App Stores like Cydia.
But despite its attempts to stop jailbreaking, Apple appears to also embrace its hacking community in a limited fashion. If you take a trip around iTunes’ international stores, you’ll notice iPhone App Stores in many countries where Apple has no official iPhone carrier. I haven’t tested any of these App Stores to see if they actually sell the programs they advertise, but judging by the customer reviews these international outlets work just fine.
Palm’s hacker love
Oddly enough, Palm’s hands-off approach may be a reaction to the frenzy and enthusiasm surrounding attempts to hack the original iPhone. Those early iPhone hacking experiments ended up with reports of unlocked iPhones being rendered useless — bricked — from Apple system updates. But hacked iPhones also helped Apple get a sense of the device’s popularity when iPhones started popping up all over the world.
The End of the Hacking Road?
While Palm’s attitude may be good news for hackers, I can’t help but feel a twinge of remorse over this news. If Palm and its Pre hackers are developing a rapport, what does this mean for the rest of the smartphone jailbreaking revolution? Will Palm’s success push other handset makers to pour out some hacker love? Would Apple be one of them? Just imagine a world where the iPhone is free and open, and the Dev Team feels silly being cloaked in mystery behind their pineapple-style avatars. Oh, the horror.