Which is the better phone, Apple’s iPhone or devices that run Android? It is a philosophical battle that is as old as time itself, well at least as old as smartphones. Personally, I have never understood why anyone would care what type of phone another person has in their pocket. I mean, unless you’re being forced to use a phone that you don’t like, it seems a little bit like worrying about what brand of underwear random people on the street are wearing. But for some people this is an issue that is really worth getting invested in, so I imagine that this new project from Brooklyn-based design studio Tendigi is going to bother a lot of people on both sides of the issue.
No matter how unlikely, there was always bound to be someone out there who was desperate to have an iPhone that runs Android. Enter Tendigi partner and CTO – and jazz pianist – Nick Lee who designed and built a 3D printed smartphone case that lets him run Android on his iPhone. The folks at Tendigi are no strangers to messing with Apple devices, having recently found a way to get the classic Windows 95 OS to run on an Apple Watch. So Lee decided to take his tech-mixing ways to the next level and see if he could find a way to get the Google-designed open source smartphone operating system to run on its nemesis, a very much NOT open source iPhone 6 Plus.
Taking advantage of the open source nature of the Android OS, Lee used the tools from Google’s Android Open Source Project to build an app that would allow his iPhone to run using Android’s latest version, 6.0.1 Marshmallow. He started with an embedded Android HiKey development board and linked it up with a lithium-polymer battery pack with an an integrated protection circuit to prevent things like explosions and giant fireballs. Lee also needed to use a boost converter voltage regulator that would allow the battery pack’s 3.7 volts to run the HiKey. Unfortunately, there were still some hardware issues that he would need to sort out before he could get everything working.
“While the initial power-on was successful, complete system failure occurred upon connecting a lightning cable between my iPhone and the HiKey. After some multimeter-fueled investigation, I concluded that the iPhone was simply drawing too much current, and the battery couldn’t supply enough to run the HiKey and charge the phone. No biggie — I added a resistor between the USB ports +5V pin and the lightning cable, limiting the current to a reasonable amount. I couldn’t simply clip the 5 volt line as iOS seems to disable USB data transfer unless power is also connected. Life lesson: V=IR is your friend,” Lee writes on the Tendigi blog.
Once Lee had all of the hardware issues worked out he turned his attention to designing an enclosure for all of the new hardware that he needed for this hack to work. He was initially going to use the casing from an existing external battery pack, but that ended up not being a workable solution. He decided to give 3D printing a try, and quickly adapted an iPhone 6 Plus case that he found on Thingiverse, using Sketchup to fit all of the new components. Because Lee didn’t have a 3D printer, and has never used one before, he ended up buying himself a da Vinci 2.0 Duo 3D printer from XYZprinting. At under $500 Lee figured that buying a 3D printer was preferable to paying a local 3D printing service provider $50 a pop for each iteration of his case design.
“Setting up the printer was relatively straightforward — I was able to make a test print within half an hour of unboxing it. What was not straightforward, however, was the process of exporting clean-looking models from SketchUp. In my case, the issue was that my model had many reversed faces (sometimes called inverted normals). If you plan to 3D print from SketchUp, I highly recommend reading this article: 3D Printing with SketchUp: 10 Tips and Tricks. Once my objects were sufficiently cleaned up, I hit the print button and crossed my fingers. A few hours later, I had a (very thick) iPhone case!” Lee wrote.
Once Lee perfected the hardware and made sure that the hack was working as intended, he ended up redesigning the smartphone case a few times until he had it down to a reasonable size. Of course ‘reasonable’ is entirely subjective in this case, because it’s still a brick. It just happens to be a slimmer brick than the previous few designs. Once Lee had had his case slimmed down as thin as he could get it, he added in some openings for a SD card slot and HDMI and USB ports, and he was off to the races.
Here is some video of the iPhone 6 Plus running Android Marshmallow like a boss:
I’ll admit that as impressed as I am with Lee’s project, I’m still a little confused as to why anyone would want to, well, cross the streams so to speak. But I must say, it is still pretty satisfying to watch makers and hackers pound closed source hardware like Apple products until they do what they want. If you want to read the entire build so you can try doing this yourself, you can visit the Tendigi project page here. Lee included some basic instructions and, helpfully, a list of all of the products and components that he used. Is this something you would be interested in? Discuss over in the 3D Printed Smartphone Case forum at 3DPB.com.