Update 2014.01.16 – After reading this post, check out some information recently uncovered by a friendly commenter in this more recent post.
The magicJack plus 2014 first started selling in June, 2013. It’s supposed to be a better device than its predecessor. So far, there’s no evidence to support that. The sound is not any better. It may actually be worse. There is still no way to save the volume settings when it’s not connected via USB to a computer. The advertisement on the side of the box says free SMS is available through the USB Dialpad and when you use the magicJack TalkFree App, but none of these have come to pass yet. To top it off, the line polarity on the phone jack is actually reversed, contravening over a hundred years of phone standards. I can only wonder what is going through the minds of magicJack planners. There are so many open questions about what will happen next with the new glossy black device.
The new device has two usb ports and an SDIO port, but without the pending firmware update to grant access to these ports, there isn’t much we can do with them yet. The question becomes, what new capabilities will a firmware update give the magicJack plus 2014? Will it be enough to wow us? Will the firmware update allow hackers to make use of lapsed and disabled magicJack plus devices connected directly to the router? Without inside knowledge from the device designers, we can only speculate.
So… let’s speculate.
The RJ11 jack on the 2014 still only has only a single tip and ring, so it’s built only to handle a single phone line. I would have expected at least a two-line RJ11 jack so I could use my two-line office phone with the coming firmware update. I’m surprised this was not acted upon because it would have given magicJack the capability of optionally doubling the yearly lease on a single device without having to pay the additional cost of creating, shipping and marketing a second physical device. It’s a marketing consideration that would have fit well with magicJack’s tight-fisted business model. If they had made it two phones in one, compatible with two-line office phones, that might have been something new and useful. I am imagining Dan Borislow in full facepalm. It would have been a reasonable next step. But they didn’t do it.
The introduction of peripherals opens up the possibility that someone could come up with a router-enabled hack for the magicJack plus 2014. Consider: There are plenty of embedded operating systems that have been hacked to the benefit of their users. TomatoUSB on an ASUS RT-N16 allows users to add all sorts of excellent capabilities to a fairly powerful home/SOHO router. On the original Nook Color, hackers created a bootable microSD hack that allowed users to boot directly from the external microSD card, bypassing the internal Nook Color android OS, and allowing CyanogenMod to boot into a less restricted, rooted android operating system, all without needing to change a thing on the Nook’s onboard operating system. What’s to stop hackers from gaining access to the bowels of the magicJack’s embedded operating system in a similar way? Is it possible to hack the magicJack plus 2014 so that a preferred web-enabled SIP client could run from a USB memory stick, all from the router without a computer?
Some of the peripherals that will eventually connect to a magicJack plus 2014 might benefit from a web-enabled server that could allow users to edit settings on the magicJack from a browser while it’s connected directly to the router. In such a case, it’s possible that shell access could be part of that parcel. Is it possible that magicJack will open up the firmware so that hackers can develop add-ons for the router-enabled magicJack plus 2014? It seems more likely that magicJack is looking for ways to thwart hackers, since they probably would prefer to keep a proprietary edge. After all, it would look pretty sorry for magicJack if people bought the device for $50, and then decided not to use it as a magicJack, but instead as a Google Voice or SIP phone hacked device. As devices go, it’s pretty inexpensive and smaller than an Obihai device.
That said, magicJack doesn’t let you re-enable a device that has lapsed its registration. That makes magicJack look fairly un-eco-friendly. What possible reasons could magicJack have for stopping people from re-enabling an old device? Hacking the magicJack plus 2014 so it can be used directly from the router for other services, if it’s possible, could be a great way to re-use a whole host of future lapsed devices. An open-source hack similar to what happened with rockbox might be a nice direction for this to go.
Will we be whelmed or will we be amazed? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.