Your iPod Touch slips easily into the Peel’s crappy plastic case, seen here with a variety of cracks and scars that are sure to wow the ladies
The Yosion Apple Peel 5210: Heard of it? It’s a docking device that turns a regular Apple iPod Touch into an iPhone 3 (of sorts), and appeared in beta form on Taobao a couple of months ago to cautiously enthusiastic reviews from Chinese tech blogs. The device was buggy and its inventors admitted in interview to lack of funding, amateurish business skills and concerns about legality.
Things didn’t look especially bright for the Peel… but since then, Apple has been firmly rebuked by the Library of Congress, the bugs were tweaked and public interest grew immense. About ten days ago, I unwrapped my own (finished retail) copy of the controversial device. Mid-October saw solar energy company GoSolarUSA CEO Tyson Rohde visit Yosion in Shenzhen, to “discuss North American distribution and a profit-sharing agreement for [their] groundbreaking wireless Apple Peel 520”.
“[It] is already one of the most talked-about iPod accessories of the year, and we’ve received a flood of inquiries from retailers about the device’s availability,” Rohde enthused, adding that he intended to blag a hundred Peels for distributing to retail and media outlets Stateside (read: friends and family). That deal is now done.
The demand is driven by the Yosion Apple Peel 520’s breakthrough functionality. The device slips over the iPod’s case and includes a separate battery (which lasts about as long as your iPod’s if not longer), dock connector and SIM card slot. With the proper software installed, the Apple Peel 520 adds the ability to make voice calls and text messages to the Touch.
“The [Pan] brothers who invented this… probably ran down a list of how many ways they could annoy Steve Jobs,” Jonathan Hudis, chairman of the American Bar Association’s Trademarks and Unfair Competition Division told BusinessWeek. “I could not see Apple standing by to let this continue, especially if it results in product shipping into the United States.”
With 275 million iPods out there missing phone functionality, the market has got Rohde and others weak at the knees; meanwhile at Silicon Valley, there’s fury in Hitler’s bunker at the potential lost revenue from consumers fed up with the company’s high prices and monopolistic grip on their product.
The device requires “jailbreaking” your iTouch. This means open-sourcing the Touch, effectively untethering it from the manufacturers’ directives on settings and downloads (Apple doesn’t like it and will stamp its feet and void your warranty).
So, don’t do what I did and accidentally update your firmware to 4.0.2, the Apple dev’s latest (supposedly) jailbreak-proof patch. You can still update to 4.0.1 (the iPhone 4 software), though: then use your iTouch wifi via Safari to visit jailbreakme.com, where you’ll find a foolproof jailbreak you can download and deploy direct to your iPod.
Anyway, I finally found someone web-savvy enough to show me how to use greenpois0n, a hack which painlessly takes one’s inept hand and guides you, while I watched in slack-jawed amazement, occasionally pressing the odd key prompt.
The device now “broken”, it was time to throw out my next-to-useless dual-language instruction manual and throw myself once again upon the tender mercies of the Net. I recommend http://www.peel520.net/installation/ for providing comprehensive instructions for installing the necessary apps to make the thing work.
The Chinese-made apps all come with English-language option
The first problem I had was figuring out how to turn it on: turns out there a crappy button on the back of the Peel under the battery; press and hold this for five seconds, until you hear the ring tone and you’re in business. Second was figuring out how to actually call and text contacts; it’s not immediately obvious, but once you bring up your friends list, drill through to the phone number and then tap that. You’ll then either call or be presented with the message field, depending on which app you’re in.
Other bugs? Managing messages (which can only be sent to one person at a time) while writing them is a matter of deleting; I haven’t yet figured out how to edit while writing (there’s no full-screen) or even if you can. Caller ID is retroactive (even if it’s in your contact list, the incoming number won’t associate with the name unless you tap on it and “add to existing contacts”). Contrary to what’s been stated before, messages can be individually deleted by tapping on the message in the dialogue window (options included ‘delete’ though no ‘forward’) but missed calls can only be identified or seen through the History button and the screen doesn’t light to indicate incoming traffic.
Most of these flaws are entirely livable with, and scarcely caused any hassles, but one major defect that really should have been addressed is the actual design of the Peel. The original had a silicon-rubber skin, which sounds like a better solution that the cheap plastic shell they’ve gone with. I’ve had it a week, and not dropped it once, yet the back battery panel has a crack down the middle (no idea how this happened) and there are three or four bits of plastic now inexplicably missing from the side sections.
This seems unacceptable for a device that retails at 500 yuan and I can’t see US consumers tolerating an 80-dollar gadget that shatters if you drop it. Still, they’ll probably be getting an superior export model (I’d be very interested to know if this is actually the case).
In the meantime, waiting for those promised patches that will fix the glitches (including working GPRS and improved SMS functionality), I’d say that, despite being priced at around twice what it should be, the Peel is probably worth it. It will save you around half the price of an iPhone 3, and nearly two-thirds that of the latest model, and if you have a iTouch already, it’s a good conversation piece – literally – if nothing else.