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Interview: What’s It Like To Be a 13 Year Old iPhone Jailbreak Creator

I don’t know about any of you, but when I was 13 I could barely walk and chew gum.  The most ‘handheld computing power’ I’d experienced using was probably a calculator, and if I had any guess at all on what ‘hacking’ meant, it would’ve been something to do with a violent cough.

Since then my coordination has improved marginally, I’ve become slighijailbreakbannertly obsessed with handheld gadgets, PDAs, smartphones and such, and I now make a living as a ‘techie’ – but on the network and support side of things.  I’ve always had a lot of admiration for people who can write code and develop applications.  I really like WordPress.com’s slogan that ‘Code is Poetry’.

So … when I got a chance to trade a quick email with AriX, the 13 year old coder behind this week’s release of an over-the-air iPhone and Touch jailbreak method, I asked him whether he might want to do a little interview, and I’m happy to say he accepted.

AriX has an unbelievable resume already.  He is 13 years old now.  He started hacking iPods when he was 9, wrote an iPod Linux Application Manager at 11, hosts several podcasts on programming and tech generally on Talkshoe, released the first jailbreak method for the iPod Touch back in October of last year, and recently released the first over-the-air jailbreak process for the iPhone just a few short days ago.  Jeez – but can he walk and chew gum, eh???

AriX and his friend and colleague Ben were kind enough to take quite a bit of time over a couple of evenings this week to talk with me via Skype and tell me a little about what it’s like to be a 13 year old iPhone hacker and jailbreak creator.

I should apologize in advance for the somewhat rambling nature of the interview and also for having to paraphrase a lot of the guys’ answers.  I can only blame this on them being 13 years olds and going off on youngster ‘banter tangents’ quite often :)  Oops, no – the reality is that I happily went off on these tangents with them, my interviewing skills are crap, and I was trying to chew gum while doing this (probably the biggest issue).

Anyway, here’s our rambling but fun conversation:

Where are you guys from?

Pennsylvania.

So the two of you have been working together on all this jailbreak stuff? Who does what?

AriX codes / develops, Ben manages the website, and does almost all of the writing and PR stuff.  Ben doesn’t have a Mac right now, otherwise he would do more development also – he’ll soon be changing that.

How many iPhones do you own?

Arix – I Started out with just the Touch – then had so many donations that I got an iPhone.

How do you handle testing of your jailbreak methods? 

Arix – I mostly test myself – I own an iPhone and a Touch, and use the Touch almost exclusively for testing, also use the iPhone at times – and rope in some online friends to help with testing close to a release also.  I’ve had to restore many times, many times …

How did you get into jailbreaking?

Arix – I’ve been hacking iPods since I was 9. I got really into iPod Linux and ended up making an app called ‘iPod Application Manager’.  It was a Windows app – done with batch scipting etc. – that let you use start files to install apps as iPod Linux booted – it worked on 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th Gen iPods and the original Nano.

Tell us a little more about the various jailbreak methods you have released over recent months …

AriX: We were the first to release an automated jailbreak for the Touch – based on the TIFF exploit – called ‘iJailBreak’ – first released version was 0.2 last October.

This latest one we released this week – iJailbreaklMobile – is for the Touch and the iPhone and was based on Nate True’s method if the user is going from firmware 1.1.1, and based on the Dev Team’s method if going from 1.1.2 – and was the first over-the-air jailbreak process for 1.1.3 (there have since been several other OTA methods released).

There have been issues with it for some users (as there have been with all the latest methods) – how are you doing on getting those fixed?

AriX: I’ve written a few fixes – a mail app fix and similar.  Haven’t needed that many so far.

What sort of computer do you work on? 

AriX: A MacBook Pro – I got it a couple months ago.

Ben: I will be getting an iMac shortly

What do you guys think of the new MacBook Air?

Ben: Underpowered and overpriced

What’s your favorite movie?

Ben: I don’t watch movies – I won’t support the MPAA or RIAA – same reason I won’t buy from iTunes.

Arix: I don’t watch many movies – sometimes family movies.

What ringtone/s do you use on the iPhone?

Arix – (played it, I could barley hear it and had no clue what it was) – it’s the music from the Mac OS 10 Tiger intro videos – this one, for those who are curious

What’s your favorite book, techie or non-techie?

Arix = I like the Harry Potter series. 

Ben = I don’t really read many books – there’s just so much better content online for techie subjects …

Arix – I just got an ebook on programming for the Touch.

We always hear about how all you younger folks don’t do email, do mostly texting – is that true for you guys?

Both:  We use email more than SMS.  AriX gets easily 50-100 a day with all the iJailbreak ones.  Rarely use SMS.  Mostly we talk to each other via Skype, sometimes email …

Is hacking and techie stuff your biggest hobby by far?  What are some of your other hobbies?

Both:  Don’t really have too many hobbies apart from computers and techie stuff.  Hang out with friends a lot, definitely have a life, but not too many other hobbies …

I have to ask, what are your thoughts on what you’re going to do when you’re ‘grown up’ / finished with High School?

Both: It’s gonna be something techie definitely.

Ben: It’s just in us. 

Both also said they’re not sure about what sort of technical pursuits they’ll get into, pretty open still.  Both seem to want to go to college as well as continuing their techie learning and activities, and both stressed that there’s a long way to go before they have to decide any of these things.

What advice would you give to other kids who want to get involved in hacking and coding?

Ben: “Adobe Air” – allows you to build desktop apps from HTML, Ajax, Javascript – compiles down to .swf files – files that run with Flash player –

Both are going to visit Adobe at their Massachsetts office soon – and are very keen on a lot of Adobe’s development tools.

Once the SDK arrives do you plan to stay involved in iPhone hacking?

Both: yes, but how much depends on how the whole jailbreak scene goes, and people’s need for it, once the SDK is out …

What happens when it’s late at night, bedtimes / curfews come into play and you’re hard at work on a jailbreak release?  What’s the latest you tend to be up working on this stuff?

AriX:  I don’t do as well late at night – a lot of people say programmers do their best work at night – I wish that were true.  Mostly the late night issue has not come up with a jailbreak release – released one on a Saturday afternoon when Ben was here (at my house).  It’s much easier doing a release when Ben is around.

The latest we tend to work is until around 10pm …

What do you guys think of Google’s upcoming Android platform?

Both:  Big Linux enthusiasts, both experienced with Linux. 

Ben: I plan to buy an Android phone on the first day they’re out if the prices are reasonable.

Both: Planning to probably get involved in developing for Android.  Ben has already played around with the emulator and is impressed with it, and with Android’s browser.

What are some of your favorite iPhone apps?

Arix: I run a ton of iPhone third party apps – MobileCast, VNSea, NetServices (love it), TermVT100, MobileFinder, TextEdit, Customize, Summerboard, Contrasense, iPhysics, TTR …

Who’s gonna win the Super Bowl?

Ben: Patriots – They’re 18 and 0 – comon!

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Some Quick Final Impressions:

I’ll tell you, before talking to them, at least part of me imagined that these guys would come off as being a little strange, or more than a little maybe.  That they’d maybe be ultra-geeks who were clumsy at communicating, social misfits, or things along those lines.

But in fact … both Ben and AriX sounded mature, articulate, sensible and level-headed, very intelligent and sharp needless to say, and also just like regular kids, regular guys. Both seemed to have a good sense of humor, not deadly serious types at all – they were fun to talk to basically. 

They both sounded like they could walk and chew gum with no problems at all 🙂

To learn more about AriX and Ben’s efforts and thoughts on all things programming and computer-related, check out:

http://ijailbreak.com

AriX’s Blog  (this one also has links to past podcasts on iPod Linux, iPhone, and general computing and techie subjects)

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  • danc

    patrick- great post, great interview.

    Unbelievable. That they are just 13 blows me away. Takes all that stuff you hear about “kids these days” and tosses it right out the window.

    Impressive. Impressive impressive.