back to article USB hack connects Droid to printers, video cams, and more

A reverse engineering expert has disclosed a way to make his Motorola Droid host USB-enabled devices, a hack that allows the smartphone for the first time to directly connect to printers, video cameras, TV tuners, and a wide variety of other peripherals. The modification was devised by Mike Kershaw from Kismet and Mike Baker …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Horns

    Game changer

    iPhone, is there an app for that?

  2. swaygeo
    Thumb Up

    Sounds like a killer app to me

    Building on from this principle, is it too far fetched to imagine some of the ever more powerful smartphones coming with laptop style docking stations to be able to use a full sized screen / keyboard?

    Make the price right, and I'd probably buy one :D

    Mmm I love the smell of convergence in the morning!

  3. Andy 97
    Thumb Up

    Excellent work that person!

    Nice to see the human hunger to solving problems is still alive and well!

    It'll be interesting to see what can be done with the iPad.

    1. Boris Winkle

      @Andy 97

      Oh! Does the IPad have USB???????


      Another nail in the coffin for it!

      Along with the price, the 4:3 screen, the lack of 3g....the list goes on

      1. Anonymous Coward


        Look at the nerdy fanbois guffaw!!! What a sight. I get that you are an irreverent troll, but getting your "facts" straight is far more effective. Wow Boris, seems that you already know how much th Uk pricing for th iPad is going to be. FWIW, the iPad starts at $499 - I'd expect a UK price of £350 after tax, but it could be slightly more, which shit-for-brains is about the same price of most of the high-end netbook. 4:3 screen? Meh, at least the software fits the fucking screen! Lack of 3G? I know you haven't posted for a while, but have you not left your home under the bridge in the last few weeks?

        OT; this is the most pointless "hack" ever. For starters, hardwiring a mobile device to peripherals is counter-intuative! I'm always surprised by you nerds and your distain for all things touch. I thought that you were all Trekkies! Surely the touch interface lets you play at being Jean-Luc?! Is it 'cause Apple made it work? You nerds just don't get it. Average consumers and business users just don't give a fuck. Start telling them about this and watch them glaze over. Oh, and clever-dick with snooty "is there an app for that?" post. Printing? Yes. Several as it happens...

        1. Tarthen
          Jobs Horns

          @ Erm...

          Denial: There is an app for that too!

        2. Christopher Rogers
          Thumb Up


          I've always fancied the idea of being able to print off my smartphone, or plug a usb dongle into it to view files. With these devices bcoming more and more like a computer in your pocket (or are you just pleased to see me *snigger* *snigger*) i'd like the ability to use them with external devices such as these. It could breathe new life into old equipment and expand the usefulness of the phone even more.

          As for Apple, the only referencs i see to them is 1 person refering to them and another fanboi defending them. Piss off the pair of ya.

          1. Anonymous Coward

            Denial of what!

            You are EXACTLY the sort of guffawing fanboi I was talking about!

          2. Anonymous Coward

            @Christopher Rogers...

            That's rich coming from you! I was merely pointing out that Boris had written was rubbish and the rantings of a freetard fanboi! As for me, I'm OS agnostic, son, I can (and do) use the three main desktop platforms. I have an iPhone because it works *FOE ME*. My Mrs has an Android based device. It's good, there are plenty of things I'd like to see in iPhone OS, HOWEVER, IMHO it's interface doesn't BEGIN to come close the the iPhone, even after HTC have fucked about with it and as a result I find it less useable. The iPad doesn't appeal to me, BUT that sort of FUD needs addressing in the manner that it was originally presented!

            Now, "being able to print off my smartphone, or plug a usb dongle into it to view files" IMHO, plugging a printer into a mobile phone/smart device is, as I said, counter intuitive! In fact, the whole 'plugging peripherals in' seems backwards and THAT is what the jibes were about. I cannot believe that there are those out there that are so obviously into technology, but are still such luddites and still want a keyboard! That's not to say that touch interfaces are perfect, they're blatantly not, but the future has got to happen sometime and I'd rather it happens to me! I didn't suggest that printing from a smartphone was counter-intuative! As I mentioned, there are apps that enable that. It can be done in Android too, I'm sure. You do realise that the iPad has a USB dongle available for looking at file on a memory card/flash device. It probably only works with images, which would be a shame, but it DOES already exist. It's very clever that someone has worked out how to do it, no denying, but to suggest that this is a "killer" feature is way off the mark!

            1. Boris Winkle
              Jobs Horns

              USB Dongle...

              Which you have to pay for..

              How nice of Apple not sticking to industry standards.

            2. Ammaross Danan

              @A_USER: Positioning and Appeal to Authority

              "...I'm OS agnostic, son, I can..."

              Just a note, but a classical mark of manipulating and making an argument is the appeal to authority (the parenthetical inclusion of "son," in the attempt to demean/lessen the authority of the one being spoken to, and strengthen the authority of the one positioning himself as "older"), as well as the postulating of experience given by providing examples of a wide use of systems. Both are in attempt to make this rant seem a worthwhile source of information.

              It irritates me to hear (read) people that have to resort to these tactics (albeit subconsciously) to make their point rather than standing on the shear logic and soundness of their argument. Of course in this case, we can see why the author resorted to such measures....

              Where's the [Info] icon when you need one?

            3. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward


              You're life must be really get that worked up about a piece of tech...wish I was you :)

        3. Boris Winkle

          Back on OT..

          Its about USB isn't it?

          And yup, there aint an app for that either.

          I wonder if there's a 'Touched a nerve' app?

        4. The Indomitable Gall

          You're the counter-in-tuat

          "For starters, hardwiring a mobile device to peripherals is counter-intuative!"

          Even accounting for the spelling mistake, that makes no sense. First up, they aren't hardwiring anything. If you follow the link, what you get is a picture of an *external interface* that allows you to plug in devices. They may not be hot-swappable, but they're certainly cold-swappable. That's a bit different from "hardwired".

          And what's "counterintuitive" about wanting to plug your digital cameraphone straight into a printer? Think about all the money the various camera/printer companies ploughed into Easyshare, DirectPrint, PictBridge and the like -- people want direct-from-camera printing, and I'm personally a bit surprised Google didn't see fit to support and sell that as feature out of the box.

          It would also fit with making the Android a business phone -- carry your docs with you and print on demand (but only with the sysadmin's permission in the form of a central security policy, naturally).

      2. Steven Hunter
        Jobs Halo

        @Boris Winkle

        Yes actually, it does in fact have USB.


        "The Camera Connector lets you import your photos and videos to iPad using the camera’s USB cable."

        That said, I have no idea if it supports anything beyond the USB storage devices (which most camera act as), but it's a start and it's direct from Apple (and not some crazy DIY hack).

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Help needed!

    OK I get the general idea of this but can someone explain...

    Is this a hack that makes something work that was previously thought impossible? Or is it a hack that gets around limitations purposefully built into a device?

  5. Cameron Colley

    Why is it so hard?

    Why on earth does someone have to put together a device to "fool" it into accepting peripherals? If the necessary hardware and some of the software are present then why teh hell didn't Motorola enable this functionality by default, or at least via some semi-obscure back-of-the-manual menu item?

    1. John Hughes

      Why is it so hard?

      Because USB is not symmetric - the hardware and software you need to talk to a USB peripheral (printer, USB stick, keyboard...) aren't the same as what you need to talk to a USB host (computer).

      With some hardware (e.g. Nokia N810) it's possible to do funny tricks with crossover cables and software. With others (e.g. Nokia N900) not all the wires are connected and it can't be made to work.

      (There is now "USB to go" which allows a device to be both a host and a peripheral, but it's apparently quite hard to get certified).

  6. Andrew 63

    The N900 does this...

    ... out of the box with a bit of software installed from Maemo repository! No rebooting phone either.

    1. John Hughes

      N900 can't do USB host mode

      "The N900 does this out of the box with a bit of software installed from Maemo repository!"

      No it doesn't. The N900 can't do USB host mode.

  7. biscuit
    Thumb Up


    A USB keyboard would be great!

    1. Gerry Doyle 1

      Keyboards for phones

      Nokia biz phones have been capable of using wireless keyboards for years.

  8. James Hughes 1

    Hey Presto

    Why, eventually, Android phones will overtake the iPhone.

    (Well, one of the reasons anyway)

  9. zaax

    N95 prints for years

    My N95 has been doing that for years. Though I fnd printing pointless as its a lot easier to email the item

  10. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Off Limits ?

    Most devices are capable of doing far more than what they are delivered to do, it's just a case of working out how to enable and use what exists but isn't utilised - in some cases that can be far harder than in others. Console, USB even Ethernet access on some devices is simply soldering a connector or some components on a PCB, in other cases a pure software solution can be found, sometimes a mix.

    I'll echo the "Why is it so hard?" sentiments of Cameron Colley but, from a commercial perspective; why spend time implementing what isn't needed commercially, plus then having to document, support and bug fix that ?

    Commercial products are simply that, devices which do a particular job for a particular market the manufacturer perceives, not a general purpose platform for whatever users may want.

    There's a whole market for 'hackers' out there who re-purpose devices to do something beyond their sold-as capabilities ( digital picture frames as PC displays, routers as web servers etc ). It would be nice if commercial producers leant over backwards towards helping them do that, but one cannot expect them to do so if they cannot justify that in commercial terms.

    Reality is that we sometimes expect manufacturers to 'give us everything' but usually don't want to pay for them doing that. Ultimately it's 'them' making the things, not 'us'. C'est la vie.

    Perhaps people who don't like what is delivered should go into business themselves to deliver what it is they think that should be ? No ? Then why expect anyone else to ?

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      off limits

      >why spend time implementing what isn't needed commercially,

      Because more often than not they go to extreme lengths to block something, inventing complex security solutions to stop you doing something reasonable that you would buy the device for.

      Like Nintendo stopping me running Mplayer on the new Wii - when I would buy a second one if I could.

      Apple blocking you using the iPhone as a 3G dongle is for the benefit of the carriers.

      But if Android (or Apple) let me use a USB dongle there are a bunch of apps we currently run on Windows CE machines that I would switch to smart phones.

  11. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

    You seem to be saying

    As I interpret the story: the."Motorola Droid" is designed to be plugged into a PC by USB so that you can manage the phone's data on a big screen and keyboard, and maybe tether it as a modem. But this hack makes the phone treat itself as the PC and the plugged-in thing as the accessory, peripheral, keyboard, whatever - which may or may not be also possible with other phones with USB connectors.

    Things that I would consider trying are a USB hub and/or another Droid phone, or a "foreign" phone.

  12. James 5

    More extreme Android..


    There are hacks and devices to allow Serial port comms via the USB on some Droid phones. On machines like the Trimble these are built in and supported.

    Won't be long before these are pretty capable systems to talk to the physical world (as opposed to the virtual - which they're good at).

    We can see a time - not far in the future - that a droid phone could work our field instrumentation (serial comms devices). Good to know they can also print the results !

  13. Ben Ryves


    Good work, but I can't help thinking there's rather more charm in something like

  14. Tarthen

    The ironic thing is that....

    Now this means that the Droid could potentially print - something the iPhone did first, as said by many fanbois in this article's comments.

    However, if my suspicions are correct, they will make it run the same printing server as desktop Linuxes usually do, which is CUPS (also known as the Common Unix Printing System). The irony in this is that CUPS was written by none other than Apple - the creator of the iPhone.

    1. jaduncan


      No, no it wasn't. It was written in 1997 by Michael Sweet, used in Linux from 1999, then used in OSX from 2002 as it was *already robust*. Apple bought the code and hired the developer in 2007.

      Not very written by Apple, really.

    2. Pete B

      The ironic thing is that....

      Apple didn't write CUPS - it was started by Michael Sweet, late 90's and Apple bought the code in about 2006 IIRC.

      1. Tarthen

        I stand corrected...

        I assumed that the billion Apple trademarks on it meant that they in some form wrote it.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not to mention that...

      CUPS is a craptacular hack for a printing system and I wish somebody in the F/OSS world would come up with a replacement that doesn't suck. Sorry for the OT rant...

    4. Chris iverson


      The guy who created it happened to be hired by Apple after they started using it in 10.2 which was about 5 years post its creation.



      Johnny come lately.

      CUPS was not written by Apple. CUPS was BOUGHT by Apple.

      Just like Star Office, CUPS was around for a long time before some other company decided to come along and buy it after all of the actual hard work was done. No gumption or vision was required. They just had to write a check.

  15. Graham Bartlett


    "hardwiring a mobile device to peripherals is counter-intuative"

    Why? Sure, it might not make as much sense for a peripheral like a printer. But peripherals like memory sticks, Bluetooth/wireless/3G dongles, stuff like that - why would you not want it to do that? Whilst a touchscreen is great for many things, it is provably worse than a regular keyboard for text entry (on metrics such as speed of typing, accuracy of typing, and RSI issues from lack of tactile feedback). With the ability to plug in a separate USB keyboard when needed, you have a convergence device which means you no longer need a laptop for text-based work. Similarly, a USB-enabled monitor or projector could be plugged in when you need to show your work to colleagues, instead of having to transfer the files to a different machine.

    And it's not "hard-wiring". Hard-wiring is when you can't remove it. This is plugging in, which is the same thing you do with mobile peripherals such as a memory stick. BFD, yeah?

  16. ElNumbre
    Dead Vulture

    A HTC Device that does

    My old HTC Athena/T-Mobile Ameo did this, at the cost of a £10 cable to connect up. Unfortunatly, because it ran WinBlows Mobile 5/6, there were no software drivers for anything other than keyboards, mice and an odd USB key.

  17. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge


    "Building on from this principle, is it too far fetched to imagine some of the ever more powerful smartphones coming with laptop style docking stations to be able to use a full sized screen / keyboard?"

    Not at all. There are even USB VGA adaptors (which have support within mainstream Linux at least so if Droid doesn't support them I'm sure it could). USB hub, keyboard, mouse, VGA adaptor, and a USB stick or hard drive if you want. Not particularly portable, but it could certainly be useful, I could use a sweet sweet Model M with my phone 8-). It'd draw attention for sure to go some place where you're expected to give a PowerPoint presentation, and just hook your phone up to do it!

    And yes, of course it's potentially useful to hook up memory sticks, even a printer -- hook it up, print, and then unhook it, I don't see what's so confusing about that. Apple fanbois think if an IPhone can't do something that it's useless. A lot of people don't have some wifi printer and don't want to spend the bucks to get one. Is it an earth-shattering feature? Probably not. But it's nice.

    "Why on earth does someone have to put together a device to "fool" it into accepting peripherals? If the necessary hardware and some of the software are present then why teh hell didn't Motorola enable this functionality by default, or at least via some semi-obscure back-of-the-manual menu item?"

    Probably was unintentional behavior as opposed to some checkbox that Motorola didn't enable, either a hack will probably make it all hot-swap and nice, or an update to Android will enable it. I mean, as you say, why not since the functionality is there?

  18. mky

    Must be missing something...

    My supposed smartphone is able to hook up to local wifi nets. Does it not make more sense to just connect over wifi and print to a local printer? Something I think the OS on the mobe/cp should offer. My cp also supports Bluetooth... Blah blah blah.

    I question why I should need to plug-in for such mundane issues. That said, I think there are some possibilities, where being able to plug-in and control another device could be handy. To many beers atm to offer any good examples. I am also far to lazy to do so now.

  19. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

    Wireless printers are available.

    You also can buy a wireless adapter for a USB printer. (One I looked at specifically says "No parallel port adapters allowed.") But I don't know if you then can print to it from a typical phone with wireless networking. It might be mostly for PCs.

    Printer + wireless thingy for printer may be more expensive than buying a wireless-capable printer, but theneagain you can choose just abrout any printer model instead of looking for one that comes with wireless.

    Or of course you can share the printer from a wireless PC.

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