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.
Pending Firmware Update
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.
- It’s labeled WiFi on the magicJack plus 2014, but the interface accepts a microSD-shaped SDIO card. SDIO would allow the magicJack to connect wirelessly to a router in your home or office. No longer would you have to locate your magicJack near an ethernet connector or run a line to your preferred location for the magicJack device. You would only have to be within a reasonable distance from the wifi-enabled router.
- Because most public hotspots insist on accepting a usage policy via web interface before being allowed surf, SDIO won’t be much use in a hotspot. There’s no browser or monitor connected directly to the magicJack, so you’ll have to bring your computer and plug it into your computer’s USB port, log in on the computer, and then use the magicJack while it’s connected via USB. (Keep in mind that some hotspots block SIP port traffic, so you still may be out of luck trying to connect with your magicJack at a hotspot. That’s true today.)
- As of this posting there are no microSDIO interfaces for WiFi. At our current level of tech, we can barely fit all the necessary circuits into miniSD-sized SDIO card. If they do come up with a microSDIO interface, it’s likely there will be some sort of bulky antenna attached. The microSDIO card will stick out like a thumb from the magicJack, making the overall package dimensions of the wifi-enabled magicJack just a bit larger than its specified dimensions. That’s not really that big a deal, because most of us are probably just letting the device hang from its ethernet, phone and USB extension cables in a closet or behind a desk to allow it to stay cool.
- There may be other useful advantages to an SDIO port, like connecting a video monitor to the magicJack, but again, since it’s labeled WiFi, we can only guess that magicJack has decided to limit the interface. No face-to-face video chats…
- Why didn’t they just integrate WiFi directly into the package? There are a number of reasons.
- It’s yet another thing that will demand support knowledge from the chat support in the Philippines. If SDIO is third-party, you’ll have to contact them instead. From a chat support point-of-view, if WiFi isn’t working, you can just blame the SDIO card and tell the customer that their magicJack is otherwise performing correctly.
- Most people aren’t going to want to use WiFi because it will add a level of flakiness to the mix that could cause dropped calls, especially in a business situation, or in densely-populated areas where there are many WiFi devices crowding out spectrum.
- It’s not as fast as ethernet.
- It’s less secure.
- It’s cheaper to give a small geeky group of people the option to pay more for a peripheral wifi adapter. That means fewer returns, since it’s one less thing that could break or have manufacturing flaws inside the magicJack itself.
- In other words, it comes down to money. Enough people have wined about how cool WiFi would be, that perhaps magicJack decided to meet geeksters halfway, but not enough to make it a realistic third option in most situations.
- Some sort of USB phone will likely be used as a peripheral for this device. There are plenty of USB phones out there already, and almost all of them are compatible with Skype, MSN, Yahoo Messenger and SIP soft phones on almost all operating systems. Most of them use tigerJet drivers, just like magicJack. Ideally, legacy devices should work with the magicJack plus 2014 once the promised firmware update comes out, but that may not be the case.
- magicJack may be coming up with its own proprietary USB-enabled phone, maybe even more than one model. Imagine a two- or four-line USB-enabled DECT 6.0 phone that could have multiple satellite handsets connecting wirelessly to the phone base. The phone base, connected via USB 2.0 could easily carry four simultaneous calls if the firmware of the magicJack were set to deal with multiple calls. Except, I don’t think magicJack is thinking that far ahead.
- Another possibility for USB peripheral would be a memory stick in order to log call history. A memory stick could also allow router-enabled add-on apps if the firmware is up to it.
- Why not just use an easily available USB-enabled WiFi adapter? In truth, that may be something they are going to include in the firmware upgrade. It would be smart if they did, because there are USB-enabled WiFi adapters ready and available on the market today, and it would be cheaper for people to be able to simply plug and play.
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.