MacBook Air SuperDrive for all

June 24, 2008

So like me, you have a MacBook Air SuperDrive… It’s affordable, it’s functional, it’s sexy. If only it was usable with other Macs and PCs!

Well rejoice :) I have successfully hacked my MBA SuperDrive to work with other Macs and PCs. All you need is a $9 part (shipping extra) and a bit of soldering and you too can do this mod.

First, take a look at pictures of this mod and a video where I connect my hacked SuperDrive to my Mac mini and my HP Mini-Note running Windows XP.

Now here’s a bit of background. The MBA SuperDrive is designed to work only with the Apple MacBook Air. How is that possible?

Some people have speculated that perhaps the MBA SuperDrive draws more than 500 mA and that the MacBook Air provides more than 500 mA via its USB port. This is not the problem. My attempt at connecting the SuperDrive to several PCs and Macs while injecting additional current using a special cable was unsuccessful…

What about drivers? I (and others) have scoured the MacBook Air system folder for additional and modified .kext files (kernel extensions) by comparing them with the ones available on other Macs – nothing.

Other people have suggested that perhaps the optical drive within the MBA SuperDrive uses special firmware. This is not the problem either. After taking apart the SuperDrive and mounting the optical drive directly into a PCs removable bay, it was recognized just fine.

This leaves the IDE to USB bridge. It’s a small circuit board that allows an IDE device like the optical drive within the MBA SuperDrive to work as a USB device. It uses firmware too – and Apple appears to have designed custom firmware for it!

There appears to be some sort of handshake happening between the MacBook Air and the IDE to USB bridge within the MBA SuperDrive. I looked into re-flashing the controller (which is a standard part) with generic firmware, but after several hours I was getting nowhere.

The alternative was of course to replace the IDE to USB bridge with another one, which is exactly what I ended up doing. The trick was to find a small enough circuit board. I was about to give up on this mod when I stumbled upon the aforementioned $9 part on a series of tubes.

The part is small enough to fit within the MBA SuperDrive, but requires removal of the daughter-board (containing a power connector, a USB connector, and several capacitors), as well as the non-ideal relocation of the 12 MHz crystal.

And the rest is history – you can figure it out from the pictures :)


Open To Anything

June 16, 2008

Tomorrow evening (Tuesday June 17th, 6:30-10:30 PM) I’ll be sharing my experiences with JoikuSpot and Qik at the San Francisco Open To Anything event at Absinthe

Check here for updates and pictures!

Update: Here’s a great summary of the event – thanks Dennis :)

And here’s more pictures.

Why I’m disappointed with the iPhone 3G

June 16, 2008

iPhone 3G

A week ago today the iPhone 3G was announced at WWDC and I’ve been following the developments ever since. I was in London for work at the time, so I decided to wait a few days before blogging about it…

Well time’s up and frankly, I’m disappointed with the iPhone 3G :/

Now don’t worry, I’m still going to purchase the iPhone 3G on July 11 (probably the white 16 GB model), because I like my iPhone, and with 3G and the App Store, it’s finally what the original iPhone should have been from day one :)

And therein lies rub #1. The iPhone 3G is really just a minor improvement over the original iPhone. Sure, GPS is useful and SDK 2.0 is a significant update over what Apple shipped with a year ago, but look at all that’s still missing:

– Cut & paste
– Video recording
– Bluetooth/USB tethering (DUN)
– Bluetooth stereo audio (A2DP)
– Bluetooth file/contact transfer (ObEx)
– Voice dialing

Of course, some of these missing features (video recording) can be addressed by third-party developers via the App Store. Some are not important to me (MMS). But some are essential to a 3G device (tethering), and I don’t see Apple approving alternatives like JoikuSpot anytime soon. Furthermore, the missing Bluetooth profiles (A2DP, ObEx), being low-level, are likely impossible to implement using SDK 2.0.

As for the camera, I was not expecting much, but it’s unfortunate that the hardware was not improved. Where’s the auto-focus and macro? Where’s the proper 2-stage shutter button and the flash? Look at the difference these features make, even with just a 2 megapixel sensor!

And here lies rub #2. Now that Apple and AT&T’s revenue sharing agreement is apparently over, where’s my optional, unsubsidized, unlocked iPhone 3G? I don’t care if it costs $200 more, I want to be able to swap my AT&T SIM for a prepaid foreign SIM when I’m travelling. There’s no major customer attrition risk for AT&T since it’s the only 3G network compatible with the iPhone 3G in the US.

Whatever happened to keeping things simple? An unsubsidized and unlocked iPhone 3G would be as simple as inserting a SIM, and simple is Apple’s mantra. But with the subsidized and locked iPhone 3G, it’s not even clear who amongst existing AT&T customers will be eligible to upgrade to the iPhone 3G, other than existing iPhone customers.

Since the iPhone 3G is subsidized like all other locked AT&T phones, will I be able to use any AT&T SIM with the iPhone 3G or will it, like the original iPhone, only function with the SIM used during activation?

Then there’s the artificial pricing for the iPhone 3G data plan. I’ve never been duped by AT&T’s arbitrary pricing differences between data plans, like MEdia Net Unlimited ($15 per month, $20 with 200 text messages) and PDA Personal ($30 per month, $35 with 200 text messages). Both data plans provide the same service and work with any device, 3G or not.

So why is AT&T pricing the 3G iPhone data plan differently than the original iPhone data plan, other than pure profit?

Yeah, I’m disappointed. Sosumi.

Geeking out

June 14, 2008

I’m at the BarCamp MobileCamp San Francisco v2.0 today…

Keep an eye on this post for updates and pictures!

Update: So I made a presentation on hacking mobile devices, and it went quite well, but with all the excitement, I didn’t make any videos :)

I found other pictures, too.

LG Vu camera

June 14, 2008

A few weeks ago, I looked at the LG CU920 (Vu).

I was rather disappointed overall, but I was impressed with the 2 megapixel camera, which features auto-focus and macro, but no flash.

The resulting pictures speak for themselves. Nice eh?

It’s amazing how much of a difference auto-focus, macro, a decent glass lens, a 2-stage shutter button and decent image processing can make…

Low-light performance is pretty good, but colors fade a bit in bright light. I can live without the flash :)

The only major problem I experienced was with the EXIF date being wrong for each picture, while the file creation date was right.

In the end, this is definitely the best 2 megapixel camera I’ve used since Sony Ericsson’s W800i, and I’ve played with quite a few!

Nokia N95 8 GB, US version

June 14, 2008

Thanks to Nseries WOM World, I was recently able to use a Nokia N95 8GB, US version (N95-4) for a few weeks. Being the past owner of an original Nokia N95 and the current owner of a Nokia N95-3, I was very excited to get my dirty little hands on a Nokia N95 8 GB :)

The main differences between the N95 8GB and the N95 are screen size (2.8″ vs. 2.6″) and flash storage (8 GB built-in vs. expandable micro-SDHC). I suggest you check out my pictures.

I’m madly in love with the larger screen! It’s even protected by a thicker plastic window that’s virtually flush with the housing (ie. it’s frame-less).

I’m not nearly as excited about the 8 GB built-in flash storage… Micro-SDHC flash storage currently tops at 16 GB (32 GB max.), and a separate micro-SDHC card reader provides significantly faster transfers than the sub-par USB 2.0 interface present on the device.

One day, I’d like to combine the “plum” back housing, battery & lens cover of the N95-1, the guts of the N95-3 with micro-SDHC and US-compatible HSDPA, and the front housing & larger screen of the N95 8 GB into the definitive franken-N95 :)

Ultimately, you’re choosing between a larger screen + 8 GB built-in flash storage vs. a smaller screen + expandable micro-SDHC flash storage. Either way, you’re getting loads of sexy ├╝ber-phone goodness and one of the best cameras on the market today.

London calling

June 11, 2008

I’m in London for DevStation this week… Here’s an evolving set of pictures shot with my Nokia N95-3, including a visit to the Telectroscope!

That’s all :)

Update: Videos are up.