For many, Apple’s iOS ecosystem is appealing in its simplicity. For others, it is annoying in its restrictiveness. For those that like the elegance of Apple hardware but want a little more freedom in how the operating system works—or for those that want to tinker with Android on the iPhone just because—a new project may be just the ticket. The folks at cybersecurity startup Corellium this week unveiled Project Sandcastle, the first successful attempt to get Android running on the iPhone. For now, it works only on the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus and iPod Touch. The project is the brainchild of co-founder and developer David Wang, who you may remember from the iDroid project, the first ever attempt to port Android to the iPhone roughly a decade ago.
“The iPhone restricts users to operate inside a sandbox,” the developers’ website notes. “But when you buy an iPhone, you own the iPhone hardware. Android for the iPhone gives you the freedom to run a different operating system on that hardware.”
While users can download the beta from the Corellium website, those looking for a fully-functional Android experience on the iPhone shouldn’t get their hopes up just yet. In addition to the beta only working on the iPhone 7 and 7+, the current version doesn’t support those devices’ Bluetooth functionality, camera, audio output, or cellular modem (WiFi only). This version also has read-only access to system storage, and users obviously won’t be able to install new apps from the Google Play store. Still, getting Android running on iPhone in any capacity is impressive, because it requires a jailbreak of the iPhone to do so. We've previously covered Corellium, and its role in both emulating iOS and its importance in the iPhone hacking world.
The release is likely to only accelerate existing legal tensions between Corellium and Apple.
Correllium offers iOS, Android, and Linux virtualization on ARM, something the company was sued over by Apple in August of 2019. In its lawsuit, Apple claimed that Correllium’s tools facilitated jailbreaking and violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). In the lawsuit, Apple also accused the company of selling "perfect replicas" of iOS without licensing it from Apple, all while advertising its products as "a research tool for those trying to discover security vulnerabilities and other flaws in Apple's software." In a responding blog post at the time, Correllium said Apple was simply demonizing jailbreaking, which is legal in the US courtesy of a DMCA exemption granted by the US Copyright Office. “Apple is using this case as a trial balloon in a new angle to crack down on jailbreaking,” the company said. “Apple has made it clear that it does not intend to limit this attack to Corellium: it is seeking to set a precedent to eliminate public jailbreaks.”
While the developers say additional support is coming, the project uses the checkra1n jailbreak, meaning it’s not likely to work on the iPhone 11 until a newer jailbreak is developed.
Still, the release should be helpful to both security researchers, tinkerers, and those looking for a little added security. And as the company notes, sometimes it’s just entertaining to accomplish something that isn’t supposed to be possible.
“Project Sandcastle is about having fun building something new from the sand—from the literal silicon of the hardware,” Corellium CEO Amanda Gorton told Forbes, who got an exclusive early look at the project.
For Correllium, Sandcastle not only highlights the draconian nature of Apple’s walled garden ecosystems, but its habit of hiding anti-competitive behavior behind cybersecurity concerns (much as it uses security and safety fears to justify its attempts to monopolize repair).
“Apple restricts iPhone users to operate inside a sandbox, but users own that hardware, and they should be able to use that hardware the way they want,” Gorton said. “So where sandboxes create limits and boundaries on the hardware that users own, sandcastles provide an opportunity to create something new and wonderful from the limitless bounds of your imagination."