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iPhone + Icons

September 25
Chalkwork iPhone Mini-Set

Given that the last two posts around here were about the iPhone and icons, you knew what was coming next, didn't you? The latest member of the Chalkwork family is a mini-set of 16 icons built specifically for the iPhone UI. Once installed, your iPhone looks like this. Oh, and did I mention they're free?

Installation is a little tricky. You need to have AppTapp Installer and an FTP program. It's a bit of manual file replacement, but nothing the audience of this site can't handle. Full detailed instructions are included in the ZIP file along with the icons.

During the creation of this set, I was looking at Apple's default icons closer than I previously had. They seem to be making a half-hearted attempt to use colour as an indication of the phone's functions. Blue signifies an application that uses wireless data; Mail, Safari, Stocks, and Weather. Green means an application that uses mobile phone-specific features; Phone and Text. Orange is audio and video; iPod and possibly YouTube. And photo-realism means the icon either doesn't do any of those, or isn't categorized as doing just one.

iPhone icons sorted by colour

Figure: iPhone icons sorted by colour. Phone functionality is green, wireless data is blue, audio & video is orange, the rest are photo-realistic.

It's inconsistent enough that it obviously isn't a hard and fast rule, but it also seems a bit too deliberate to be random chance. Just an interesting observation, and I decided not to follow it too closely, but I did make a few token efforts with the SMS and Phone icons in particular.

So, two questions are bound to come up. First, why not make these a SummerBoard theme? (Update: done! Read the addendum below.) Maybe one day. As near as I can tell though, today there's very little way to provide credit to the designer of a theme. Right now it comes in the form of the theme's name, "Chalkwork", and the short text description accompanying it (which appears to be simply "made by X"). Given the growing list of themes already available, that's just enough to ensure each individual one gets lost in the crowd. I'd prefer a way to grab the package directly from this site, which would obviously have the added benefit of more exposure for the rest of the Chalkwork family. I don't think that's so unreasonable. I'll keep on eye on how Summerboard themes develop, and if a method of putting more emphasis on the designer emerges, I'll give it a go.

And the biggie, what problems does all this custom iPhone hacking get you into? There are two separate issues here: installing custom software or hacking the phone in any way (which this icon set and the instructions to get it on your phone fall under), and actually unlocking the iPhone. With the former, you essentially void your warranty... if Apple catches you doing it. You may be able to get away with it if you're able to restore your phone to factory state before bringing it in for service. But it's a risk you need to be aware of if you do anything to your iPhone beyond officially Apple-approved interaction.

And for those who are interested in the separate issue of unlocking for use on a carrier other than AT&T, here's a mini follow-up to my past post on the issue. Emerging news suggests that the firmware update coming later this week will cause serious problems for unlocked phones. Now to be fair, it seems as if it's more of a by-product of what the update will do, rather than proactive unlock retaliation from Apple.

The iPhone dev team who created the unlock in the first place is on it, they're promising a way to re-lock the phone shortly, followed by a post-update re-unlock. The long and the short of it is, don't update your firmware when the new release comes out, give it a week or two, and watch what the iPhone dev team does to make sure you don't end up with a useless iPhone. Which is just repeating what I said in the previous post.

Update: Thanks to a nudge from Thomas Finley who packaged one up for me, I realized it's stupidly easy to create a SummerBoard theme after all, and so v1.01 now comes with a package you can drop into your SummerBoard themes directory. Still not as nice as tapping your way to a theme directly from the iPhone, but my concerns about proper credit remain. Bonus: now comes with a dock graphic and (quickly whipped together not very inspired) wallpaper. Look for another update that smoothes these over a little more.

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Chalkwork Update

September 17

There's a whooole lot of new stuff to see in the Icon section of this site. I released my initial set, Chalkwork Basic, earlier in the year with the intention of continuing the family at some point. And today it does, with a new set specifically designed with content and information management systems in mind. It’s called (creatively enough) Chalkwork Information Management.

Chalkwork Update

I didn’t stop there though. The more I’m doing this, the more tricks I’m picking up along the way. I went back to the first set and gave some of the original icons a visual refresh. Subtle things that you probably won’t notice unless you have them side by side, but updates that bring the styling of the old set a little more in line with the new one, along with a couple new icons to boot.

Even then, I still wasn’t content to let it rest. Oh no, there’s more. I’ve noticed that it’s common for other icon sets to include minor variations such as "add" and "remove" actions as full-fledged icons within the set. I’m doing things a little differently. For select icons — roughly half of each set — a series of 5 actions is also provided: Add, Remove, Edit, Secure, Sync/Share. Every icon that receives one of these actions receives all five. There’s almost no editorial discretion over which might be more useful than others, just a huge dump of icon variations that are there if you need them.

To give you an idea of how many icons we’re talking about here, Chalkwork Basic originally had 70. Now there are 10 times as many. I count 177 base icons in the Chalkwork family, with an additional staggering 520 variations. All 697 are available in 3 different sizes. And 6 file formats. Yes that was a lot of work. Yes that post gushing about IconBuilder happened for a reason.

If you bought a copy of Chalkwork Basic prior to yesterday, please get in touch for a complimentary upgrade to the new version of the set. Everyone else, go check out the new icony goodness.

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Exporting the iPhone

September 12

It's been a tough few months for those of us on that other 95% of the planet that isn't inside the borders of the United States. Escaping iPhone news has been next to impossible, with no relief to be found in the form of announced launch dates in any other country.

iPhone on Rogers

The good news is that the situation has been changing over the past few months, and having been subjected to continuous scrutiny since the late June launch, it's mostly a solved problem. This afternoon saw a watershed moment when the first freely available open source iPhone unlock hit the scene.

What this means is that, with the minor exception of the visual voicemail feature, the iPhone's entire feature set is usable on any compatible carrier, anywhere in the world. (Compatible in this sense meaning GSM and not CDMA networks. In Canada, that means Rogers/Fido. Outside of North America, GSM is fairly common.)

But the methods that enable this are ever-changing, and the general process isn't for the faint of heart. If you're worried about owning a useless chunk of $400USD plastic, this isn't for you. If you're worried about legal formalities, you'd best avoid it. If you have any reservations at all, best stop reading now. That being said, here's how you too can have your own iPhone, no matter where you are on this planet.

There are basically three steps to follow, each of increasing difficulty.

Buy an iPhone

This part's easy. You can walk into an Apple Store next time you're in the US and simply throw down cash and walk out with it, the same way you'd buy an iPod. You don't need to sign up for service or enter a contract to get it. As far as Apple is concerned, establishing a relationship with AT&T is entirely up to you. (This is how I did it).

Obviously the geography is a factor however, so you may need to pursue the other option. Check craigslist or eBay. With the recent price drop, there are a lot of sellers looking to recoup their losses, so you're not likely to find many good deals at the moment. Over time the prices will presumably even out a little. But if you can't make it to the US any time soon, you'll have to buy through someone else, which means paying at least some markup.

Activate It

Activation is an iPhone-specific concept. A brand new iPhone is pretty but useless — in order to even see the basic menus and included applications, you need to first connect it to AT&T and activate it by attaching it to a contract.

This one's a bit harder to crack, but again there are some choices. If you have a mailing address in the US (via a sympathetic friend or family member), you can sign up for pay-as-you-go service through AT&T. This basically means a charge to your credit card, and credit toward a US phone number you can use while you're in the country. Handy if you're in the country a lot, and it also has the side effect of activating your iPhone. Though, make sure to read the terms of service to find out what you're getting into.

That's probably the easiest choice, but there are other methods which completely bypass AT&T. Even if you do it that way, you're most likely going to need one of the other software methods as backup while unlocking the phone later. There are a bunch of applications and processes out there that will make short work of the activation process. Some are described here, others you might need to do a bit of googling to find. Which one you use depends on your platform and your comfort levels, but I'd recommend doing some research and familiarizing yourself with the latest methods, as things are still changing fairly quickly.

If you stop here, you've activated everything except the phone. iPod, Safari, calendar, mail — it all ought to work over wifi at this point. Which is cool enough, sure, but if you want the whole enchilada, you need to keep going.

Unlock It

The standard practice amongst North American wireless carriers is SIM locking consumer phones to their respective networks. In many (most?) other countries this is relatively unheard of, but since the iPhone originates on this continent, it's relevant to the discussion. Historically, unlocking a SIM locked phone to work with any carrier is usually possible, though it's not always easy, or even officially-sanctioned by the manufacturer.

Anyway, the iPhone has no official unlock method as of yet. In the past few weeks, some hacks have surfaced that allow unlocking. When I say hacks, I mean hope you like soldering. Then there was the slightly less intrusive TurboSim method which basically became unavailable after they (rapidly) sold out. But what most people have been waiting for is a less invasive software-only unlock method. A service launched early this week that was offering just that, for the low low price of a hundred bucks. But it's moot now.

The various gadget sites were ablaze with iPhone news this afternoon. It first came out around 4pm my time (GMT -8) that a free software hack was about to be released. Then came the files, and then finally instructions and confirmation from multiple sources that yes indeed, this was the real deal.

Right now, the most current method of unlocking the iPhone involves some pretty serious command line hacking. If you don't already know what ssh and chmod do, hold off. (If you do, even then you might want to hold off. It does work, but it's a bit hairy around the minicom part. )

There's work happening toward a much more automated unlock method that should make the process a snap. Given the speed at which things are happening at the moment, it'll likely be available within hours of this post. Monitor Engadget or Gizmodo for the latest.

Update: The first automated GUI version is out now. In order to use it you'll need to accomplish a jailbreak, install BSD subsystem and SFTP (I did so using Installer.app), and SFTP into the phone from a computer. Still not exactly plug and play, but if you're determined and knowledgeable (or know someone who is) this ought to be a lot easier than the command line scripts I used last night.

Update #2: owing to my reluctance to do anything on the Edge network I hadn't actually tried using wireless data until this morning. Turns out there's an extra step to get that working, which should be easy if you've made it this far. You need to go into Settings > General > Network > EDGE and replace the Cingular/AT&T information with that of your local carrier. You'll need to look up those settings, but in Canada you can find them here.

It's been over two months in the coming, but as of tonight I now have an iPhone that works on Rogers Wireless, my local carrier. And theoretically when I travel, I'm also able to buy a prepaid SIM card and swap it out to cut down on roaming rates.

There are a few gotchas you ought to be aware of before attempting. The biggest concern is, what next? Will Apple attempt to re-lock the phone in the next software update? No one knows. If you're the optimistic sort you could read into this recent statement by an Apple marketing person as leaning toward laissez-faire unlock management from the company (though it's already been clarified…) They do make money no matter where the phones were bought after all, it's only AT&T that's missing out on most of the recurring revenue. Who knows how it will play out though. I'm going to wait-and-see as new versions of the firmware are released before upgrading so I don't break anything. The good news is that the development community is super active, so I'm betting that no matter what screwballs get sent out from Cupertino, there will be a workaround sooner or later.

Update #3: More and more is becoming clear about how the unlocks and future firmware updates will interact. See the newer post iPhone + Icons for more detail.

There are also reports that some people have lost the YouTube app as a result of the unlock. That problem appears to be addressed already (see Update 2), but I didn't experience it myself, so it's sporadic anyway.

If you're an American iPhone owner, you probably still remember what June 29th felt like. To a lesser degree, that was what today felt like for the rest of the world.

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