This gamer's no stranger to bricking

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I’d been wondering how long it would take for the bricking phenomenon to get to Apple products, and now I know. It really wasn’t that much of a mystery to me — I’ve been playing with a Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP) since the day they came out in the U.S., and that phenomenon is old hat to us gamers.

Almost as soon as the PSP came out, hackers began to develop their own homebrew software for the system. The PSP, despite its small size, is a pretty powerful system, and can play plenty of older arcade games in emulation. In fact, if you’re well-heeled enough to have a PlayStation 3, you can buy some of these games legitimately through the PlayStation Store and download them to your PSP to play, as well.

But for the longest time before the PS3 and the PlayStation Store came to the fore, the only way of running game ROMs was by using homebrew hacks.

Sony, much like Apple with the iPhone, disapproved of such measures. And with each successive firmware upgrade to the PSP, the company did what it could to close whatever backdoors and trap doors and secret entry ways that homebrew hackers had found. And “bricking” your PSP by installing this unauthorized third-party software is always a possibility, but it has not deterred that vocal minority of users who feel they should be able to do whatever they want with the PSP, Sony’s licensing restrictions for software that can run on the device be damned.

But Sony has also been generous in exposing new features and functionality for the PSP. It’s been enough that many users have been more than happy to sacrifice homebrew play functionality for the opportunity to have access to the new capabilities—everything from RSS newsfeed reading on the Internet to the ability to play new types of media and access to Sony’s “LocationFree” video player products. It’s ultimately that carrot-and-stick philosophy that I think will serve Apple well with future iPhone updates.

Apple hasn’t hesitated to incorporate technology into the Mac operating system that it likes, even at the risk of damaging the livelihood of independent Mac developers. Just ask Watson developer Karelia Software, who, in its own words, learned that “Apple was the steam train that owned the tracks, and Karelia was a handcar” after it discovered that Apple’s Sherlock 3 was nearly identical to Watson. Or ask the makers of Konfabulator, which might have died an untimely death at the hands of Tiger’s similar Dashboard technology if Yahoo hadn’t come to the rescue.

The point is that many of the hacks we’ve seen produced for the iPhone are really neat and useful in their own way. Barring the solution that many people seem to want—for Apple to expose an iPhone Software Developer’s Kit (SDK) that third party developers can use to make true iPhone software—it seems logical that Apple will continue to update and upgrade the iPhone with new features and functionality that occasionally seems eerily reminiscent of some of these third-party endeavors.

What I hope, though, is that Apple doesn’t hold back software development on the iPhone for new hardware models only. It would break my heart to see the company not incorporate new features into existing iPhones simply to push sales of the new device. But I don’t suspect we’ll need to worry about that quite yet—at least, not until it’s closer to when iPhone buyers need to think about renewing their service plans with AT&T.

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