The online tech community is buzzing this week over the iJailBreak.com debut. The Web site provides iPod Touch users a simple, free application that, when downloaded, opens the devices to third-party software. Amplifying the buzz was the guarded identity of the hacker, known only by his age, 13, and his handle, AriX.
"It all started with my bar mitzvah," says Ari, who asked to be identified only by his first name. The day of his coming of age, Ari received a MacBook Pro, the computer he would later use to create iJailbreak. Unhappy with the jailbreak program for the Touch, which he says took him three hours to execute, he decided over the weekend to build a simpler program. In all, it took him 10 hours, achieved in one-to-two hour bursts fueled by Cliff Bars. "After I finished, I was up pretty late Sunday night doing my homework," he says. Ari posted the information on Mac-Touch.com, sitting on his family's living room couch, his friend and collaborator Ben sitting beside him.
While Ari acknowledges feeling a certain degree of pride, he's retained a modest perspective regarding his situation. "I think while I'm sort of famous within the iPod Touch hacking community, my 15 minutes of fame are over," he says. "I simply wanted to provide something to benefit the community. All my publicity also made iPod hacking in general more popular, which brings more people to make apps for the mobile OSX platform."
He first told his parents after he saw his name on MacRumors, a popular Apple aficionado Web site. "They were pretty proud," he admits. Proud parents notwithstanding, not everyone in the family knew right off, he laughs. "My Uncle Bob, he has a computer company, so he read about me and didn't know it was me."
Ari readily gives credit to Ben, who helped him set up the website and write the press release. "I really am not the best writer," he says. "Ben is an amazing writer, so he wrote the press release." After drafting the release, they decided on a list of who to send it to. Apple didn't make the cut.
Regarding Apple's recent decision to allow third party applications on the iPhone, Ari says he believes Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO, realized people wanted more than the standard Web applications that came with the device. "They were wrong, and I think they realized that," he says. "When they saw how excited people were about the third party apps they knew they had to do it."
While Ari seems satisfied with his time in the spotlight, that doesn't mean he's ready to retire just yet. "Right now I'm working on [iJailbreak] version 0.3, which can automatically install iPhone apps like Mail, stocks, the calendar--with the ability to add events--and Google Maps to your iPod touch," he says.
The list doesn't stop there, either—Ari says iJailbreak 0.3 promises much more. "It also adds compatibility with older Macs with PowerPC processors," he says. "Someone who developed iPhone compatibility emailed me, so the update allows people to jailbreak their iPhone, too."
Given Apple's recent announcement, he wonders how sincere Apple's lockdown strategy really is. "I don't think they're as concerned about it as they're pretending to be," he says. If given the chance to meet him, Ari says he'd like to know how Jobs feels about people like him. "Does he hate me for making these apps or does he not really care," he wonders.
There's something else he, among many others, would also like to know. "I'd ask him what's in the works," Ari says. "He wouldn't tell me that, but that's one thing I would really want to know. You never know what's in the works with Apple until it comes out."