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More than 100,000 iPhone owners break out of jail

The release of an easy-to-install method of getting third-party applications onto the iPhone prompted about 144,000 downloads of the software in three days.

The release of an easy-to-download method of opening up the iPhone to third-party applications prompted almost 150,000 downloads of the software in three days.

The iPhone of an anonymous CNET employee now has a few third-party applications, thanks for the AppSnapp installer. Corinne Schulze/CNET Networks

Our friends over at iPhone Atlas spoke with Nicholas "Drudge" Penree, one of the programmers of the AppSnapp "jailbreak" application, who provided the number. AppSnapp was released Sunday to allow iPhones and iPod Touches running the latest version of Apple's iPhone firmware to run third-party applications. Penree thinks the 144,000 downloads of the program reported since Sunday translates into around 100,000 devices that are now free to run applications developed outside of Apple.

Apple and hackers have been playing a cat-and-mouse game over the screen real estate on the iPhone almost since the day it was released. Apple CEO Steve Jobs initially told developers that the iPhone would be closed to native application development, saying that Web applications would be the initial venue onto the iPhone. That didn't sit well with many developers who were captivated by the promise of the iPhone's touchscreen interface and built-in accelerometer.

Hackers then managed to develop several methods of getting outside applications onto the iPhone only to be thwarted by Apple's OS X 1.1.1 software update. That erased all third-party applications from the iPhone, and caused all kinds of problems for people who had used the jailbreaking software to download applications in order to unlock their iPhones from AT&T's network.

Apple is clearly worried about unlocked iPhones. Chief operating officer Tim Cook offered an unsolicited estimate last week that 250,000 iPhones have been purchased with the intention of unlocking them, and the company recently enacted a credit-card only policy and a two-iPhone limit for sales through its stores with the goal of discouraging unauthorized resale.

But Apple knows just how much demand there is for third-party application on both the iPhone and the iPod Touch. Earlier this month, Jobs announced plans to release a software developer's kit for both devices by February of next year.

That SDK will pave the way for safer and more reliable iPhone and iPod Touch applications. Some security experts are worried about the security implications of the fact that all iPhone applications run as root, while others feel it's a question of priorities at the moment.

Still, the only way to get applications to run on the iPhone or iPod Touch is to take advantage of a security flaw (which the AppSnapp folks did take the time to patch for everybody), and that's far from ideal. As always, only install things on your iPhone or iPod Touch that are coming from sources you trust.