Monday, September 17, 2007

Wardriving with my iPhone

As I drive around with my iPhone, I'm bombarded by prompts from the iPhone for WiFi networks that it sees. Now, as a hacker, I can appreciate this, but since I'm trying to get work done, this is REALLY annoying. Especially since the iPhone's WiFi has really crappy range. (external antenna hacks anyone.... anyone?!)

If you download and install Devicescape's app to manage WiFi network access, you can control these annoying intrusions into your iPhone usage. On the plus side, Devicescape's app will also enable you to store WiFi access usernames/password/keys, etc. and only connect to approved wireless networks.

Check out this great write up here. I saw Devicescape at DEMO last January and I was impressed with what they're doing to make WiFi use on devices like phones, cameras, etc. easier. My only concern is that there's no barrier to entry for the manufacturers to do what they do - and there's no secret sauce to it. (do they have any IP or patents?? I don't know - Anyone want to comment on that?)

Devicescape has some exposure in that OSX does this already, and I'd guess that its a matter of time before the iPhone can do this as well. Sources tell me that Devicescape has been in talks with Apple to include their app on the iPhone. While their app has more bells and whistles than what Apple has already, I doubt they'll license it. 1) you can already get it for free and 2) Apple can add that functionality easily without licensing it.

In the meantime, give it a try. It can only improve your iPhone WiFi experience. I don't really use the WiFi on my iPhone the way it CAN be used, because as you all know, I'm a 3G (EVDO) bigot. But you already knew that. ;-)


John said...

Hello David,

Thanks for the great post about Devicescape. I'd like to clarify a few things though...

The current iPhone version of the application shouldn't change the behaviour of the (intrusive) Wi-Fi popups. The current version is an alpha, and only has our hotspot login capability; it doesn't yet have support for managing the network preference list, or for the personal networks and Wi-Fi Buddies features (though those are on our to-do list).

In terms of secret-sauce/IP, we do have a number of patent applications filed around the technology we use, and to my knowledge there is nothing similar out there, free or commercial. The reason I say that is that unlike the other hotspot login agents, we keep all the network credentials, and the instructions for using them in the network. We deliver them to the device on-demand, when it connects to the hotspot. So there's no need to re-sync each device when you add a new network, or when a network changes its login procedure. If something changes, it is available to all devices immediately.

Also, while logging into hotspots sounds like it should be an easy problem to solve, you'd be surprised how much variation there is from one to another, and how much your browser is hiding from you in terms of redirections and other 'hidden' steps in the process. It is relatively simple to add support for one or two networks, but a lot more complex to support several hundred, especially while keeping the footprint to a size that is acceptable to device manufacturers with strict code size limits.

In addition to that, the full application can store all the roaming partners associated with your accounts on the device, so that it will automatically associate with them should they be seen, and log you in (handling any special steps needed because you're roaming, like prefixes or suffixes on your username).

That's handy if you travel a lot, or even if you use an aggregator like Boingo for Wi-Fi access. Your laptop/device will know which networks to associate with automatically because our server keeps it up to date with the list of roaming partner SSIDs.

System Architect,
Devicescape Software, Inc.

David said...

John, thanks for jumping in here on the blog!

Its fair to say that I didn't get a lot of time to fully use Devicescape on my phone since 1) I didn't load it until late in my two week trial, 2) I'm not a fan of WiFi on the iPhone in the first place as I think its the wrong network type for a device like this. I'm a 3G bigot. ;-)

What experience I did have with your app was good, and for folks who use WiFi a lot on their iPhone, I think its a great app. Especially for access controlled WiFi - all of my access points are MAC address restricted, so no client side logins were needed.

Glad to hear you guys have patents filed! Gotta protect your IP! ;-)

Next time I'm in San Francisco, I'd like to swing by and see more about what you guys are doing behind the scenes.