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Chat Heads, set free: jailbreak tweak puts Facebook Messenger all over your iPhone

Chat Heads, set free: jailbreak tweak puts Facebook Messenger all over your iPhone

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A 21-year-old hacker brings one of Android's finer features to iOS

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When Facebook launched Chat Heads for iOS yesterday, the feature's functionality was limited. On Android, Chat Heads cling to the side of your screen as your browse the web, type an email, or check your calendar, but Chat Heads for iOS are stuck inside the Facebook app. Just 24 hours later, developer Adam Bell has created a tweak for jailbroken iPhones that lets Chat Heads run "on top" of iOS just as they do on Android. "I just got jealous," Bell says. "I wanted them on iOS." It took the 21-year-old Computer Science major mere hours to create a working version of the hack, which manipulates the way iOS handles different views to keep your friends' faces always on top. The Verge has confirmed the hack's functionality on a jailbroken iPhone 5.

The trick, according to Bell, was isolating the Facebook app from the Chat Heads living inside it. Chat Heads inhabit a separate layer inside the Facebook app, so it was just a matter of finding that layer and making the rest of the app transparent. "The hardest part was getting this all to render on top of everything else," Bell says, which means Facebook is always running on your phone. Apparently, Bell's tweak doesn't take much of a toll on battery life. "It doesn't seem very resource intensive," he says. "Only when you move the Chat Head is it actually doing anything."

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Chat Heads on iPhone work exactly as you'd expect them to. You can tap, drag, and fling them to your heart's content. And of course, the best part is that no matter where you are in iOS, and no matter what app you're using, Facebook chats are one tap away. But Bell's hack isn't perfect. His Chat Heads occasionally freeze, the likely culprit being Apple's limitations on how long apps can run in the background on iOS. Bell hopes to find a workaround by the time he launches the project for free on jailbreak app store Cydia and code repository Github in a few days. Unlike Messenger and Chat Heads on Android, Bell's hack isn't yet able to integrate SMS or iMessage messages, but he says "it's almost definitely possible."

Sam Sheffer contributed to this report.

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