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External iPhone Keyboard – Without JailBreak Karishma Sundaram | , 8:27 p.m. April 2, 2009 2009-04-02

The iPhone is hugely popular without a doubt, and of late AT&T has been trying to position the iPhone as a smart phone. It is undoubtedly a smart phone, however the real reason people buy the iPhone is purely based on aesthetics. It is not a replacement for a BlackBerry, as most of the admirers of those phones will agree with emphatically. 

There are two main disadvantages that the iPhone has when compared to the BlackBerry – the lack of a hardware keypad and the ability to multi-task. There is no word as yet about the multi-tasking, however, the keyboard issue has been addressed. It is not the most elegant solution, but it is still ingenious, nevertheless. 

Two hackers have managed to jerry-rig an external infrared keyboard to the iPhone through its headphone jack. As mentioned before, the solution is not a particularly elegant one nor is it easy to replicate, however it is still a feasible option. 

The hackers, Zack Gainsforth and George Dean, are PerceptDev engineers. They created a custom made jack for the headphone port so that the keyboard could be plugged in, and a software for the phone to presumably interpret the inputs correctly. 

The entire setup supposedly used electronics that cost less than $20 in total. The process is described in its entirety on their website here

In simpler terms, the engineers created a device which would read the infrared transmissions from the keyboard, mimicking a modem. It then proceeds to convert that signal into a format that the headphone jack can read, and sends it to the iPhone like that. 

The source code is also going to be available shortly as well.

An important factor in this endeavour was that there was no jailbreaking. ‘Jailbreaking’ is a concept that will be familiar to iPhone users: the iPhone allows limited access to the inner functions of the phone itself. Application developers, for example, can only leverage some of the functionality for their apps. Jailbreaking is the process of hacking into the iPhone to modify it. It is a dangerous risk to take, as jailbreaking is evidently not sanctioned by iPhone and potentially any modifications could conflict with the device itself. There is the very real danger of the iPhone turning unusable, or what is popularly known as ‘bricking up’. Jailbreaking is not recommended even though there are a number of additional functions that could be added to the iPhone as a direct result. 

The engineers used a Targus keyboard, that folds up into a convenient size, although is probably going to be ungainly to carry around without a briefcase or laptop case. In addition to the keyboard, the prototype device that they use to connect the keyboard needs to be carried around as well. However, it will depend on the individual user as to whether they want the convenience of an iPhone with a keyboard, or the whole setup would be too cumbersome to be useful. One thing is perfectly clear, it is definitely faster to type using the external keyboard.

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