While there are certain inherent risks to jailbreaking–bricking your device and voiding your Apple warranty as a result of device tampering are two top reasons that come to mind–there are also lots of benefits to becoming an Apple “hacker” and jailbreaking an iOS device, like the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad of any generation. We’re going to cover some of the benefits to jailbreaking and some reasons why you should be motivated to performing the procedure on your new iPhone 4 or iPad 2.
Will I break my device or render it worthless like a brick? Recent advances in the development of jailbreaking tools have made it a lot simpler, and more fail-proof to partake in this experimental procedure. That mitigates the possibility of bricking your device, and hopefully allows for a smoother experience for many consumers who may not be familiar with all the technical things that happen behind the scenes. For now, jailbreaking requires a computer–a Linux, PC, or Mac system will do–and some patience. Users can search for jailbreaking tools on the Internet and download–for free, don’t ever pay for jailbreaking utilities as those are usually scams, a nice program that runs on their desktop and involves a few clicks; step-by-step guidance is included with the program telling you what to do and so forth. No geekiness required, though having a geeky friend may help expedite the process and alleviate any fears.
What exactly is jailbreaking? Jailbreaking is a hack, or exploit, that brings added functions and features that were not imagined by Apple or restricted. Under recent revisions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act last summer, the process has been legalized in the U.S. on smartphones and tablets, though the legality of jailbreaking game consoles or other devices is still up in the air and subject to court interpretation. In this article, we’re just focusing on jailbreaking on smartphones and tablets. Here’s a list of some of the top five things that you can gain via jailbreaking that would otherwise not be possible on a stock iOS device from Apple.
- Tethering for free! Long before WiFi tethering was introduced on iOS 4.3, developers and hackers had exploited the iOS ecosystem to bring free USB, Bluetooth, and WiFi tethering to the iPhone, allowing you to share your mobile broadband connection via USB, Bluetooth, or WiFi. Examples of those programs–they’re paid apps on the jailbreak app store called Cydia–are MyWi and PDANet. MyWi is still my favorite and doesn’t require a desktop client to be installed on your PC, and allows for WiFi tethering, whereas PDANet requires a desktop client to be installed. Again, both are paid apps on Cydia. Beware, however, as unauthorized tethering may be a violation of your terms of service (TOS) agreement with Apple, your carrier, or any other parties involved. Excessive unauthorized data use can result in skyrocketed pay-per-use data fees, the termination of your account, or other penalties incurred by the carrier. So those are the risks, what are the gains? For one, if you’re on the AT&T metered plan, which maxes out at 2 GB of data, you won’t have to add the Data Pro Tethering plan for an additional $20 for an additional 2 GB of data per month. If you’re grandfathered into AT&T’s old unlimited iPhone data plan, you won’t have to switch to the metered plan and be forced to add the tethering option. As young kids say, unlimited data FTW!
- FaceTime over 3G. There are a few apps that allow you to fake your iPhone intothinking your connected over WiFi. Why is this important? For two primary reasons. First, Apple limits FaceTime video calls to iPhone that are connected to a WiFi network only. Second, Apple also limits apps that are downloadable over the air to 20 MB; apps that are larger than that can only be downloaded when the iPhone is connected to WiFi. With paid apps, like My 3G or 3G Unrestrictor, users can fool their iPhones into thinking that the device is connected on 3G when in fact they aren’t. I am not sure how FaceTime performs on Verizon’s CDMA iPhone, but on the GSM 3G iPhone on AT&T, the quality is pretty decent and not bad at all; in fact, FaceTime quality was far worse on a friend’s slow home DSL connection than over 3G with My 3G.
- Customize your icons and deck out with themes. Sure, Apple has made recent changes to allow for background images and wallpapers through some iOS revisions over the year, but before Cupertino, California made iOS customizable, there was–not an app for that but–a jailbreak for that! Apple’s customizations go only so far–folders have a maximum number of apps you can put in them and you still can’t change the stock icon looks, for example. On Cydia, there are both paid and free themes, utilities, and system tweaks that will allow you to make a folder with an unlimited number of apps, a themed out device with customized lock screen, have custom app icons that aren’t meant to be if Steve Jobs had his ways to keep the iPhone’s clean utilitarian aesthetics, and more! For instance, since my alma mater is the University of Southern California Trojans, I can have a USC-themed lock screen, change my “Calendar” app icon to show a fighting Trojan instead of the Apple look, and of course have custom USC ringtones made by developers who created the USC theme.
- Install apps that would have never passed the Apple scrutiny to appear in the official App Store. After you jailbreak, there is the option of installing the Cydia app store, which is really where all the real action is when you jailbreak. Without Cydia, unless you’re a hard-core geek who gets off on the technical side of things, there isn’t a real point to jailbreaking. However, thanks to Cydia, consumers, like me, who know nothing of the technical mumbo-jumbo can get in on the action. Before Google was able to get Google Voice approved in the app store, developers took to action and created third-party Google Voice apps and sold it in the Cydia store. Those themes and customizations? Well, they’re packaged together and can be had for either free or a low cost (depending on the developer) in the Cydia store. What about controversial emulators, like those that allow you to play old Nintendo and N64 games? You’ll never find them in the App Store since Nintendo is wary about porting its games and illegal download of the game’s ROM, but developers have taken to action and created emulators for Sega, Nintendo, and PlayStation systems in the Cydia store. If you’re a classic Nintendo gamer and have a bit of nostalgia, you can even find a Bluetooth hack that allows you to pair your Wiimote game controller to play your favorite edition of Mario Brothers.
- Create widgets to make it easier to access settings, like toggling WiFi. Apple has done its best–and an admirable job at that–to create a clean UI with iOS, but simple things like toggling WiFi and Bluetooth still requires a number of steps to access, including clicking on the Settings menu, hitting the WiFi option, and then accessing the WiFi toggle switch. iOS users who need to frequently turn on or off their WiFi or Bluetooth radios can download a utility on Cydia that will create an icon–like any other app–that when pressed, will do the same job with a single tap.
These are just among the top reasons to jailbreak, and certainly some of the reasons why I have resorted to jailbreaking in the past and currently. But should you jailbreak? If any of these reasons are important to you, then you should. Unlike hacking in the Windows Mobile days where developers tried to best each other to create the most elegant themes, jailbreaking is more than just customizing and “pimping out” your device. It’s about gaining functionality, adding features, and making your life easier. And if you happen to want a one-off iOS experience that’s different than your next door neighbor, you can go ahead and ‘pimp out’ your iPhone to your heart’s content with the number of thematic options.
Does jailbreaking involve piracy? Additionally, some have mistakenly equated jailbreaking with piracy, which is an unfair and incorrect assessment of the jailbreaking process and experience. It is true that jailbreaking will allow you to run pirated apps or software–we won’t even go there–that’s just a negative side effect of the exploit. The real reason many people jailbreak is to add features beyond what Apple had envisioned for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad.
What are some of the perceived risks of jailbreaking? However, jailbreaking, as simple of an experience as it is, still carries some risks, and users should be comfortable enough to take those risks if they do proceed. For one, jailbreaking is an experimental process that’s created by hackers and not sanctioned by Apple. That means you may run into problems, like devices that crash more often than non-jailbroken devices, or depletion of battery more quickly than native devices. Thankfully, through each successive iPhone generation, developers have made the jailbreaking solutions simple enough for consumers to use. If you do decide to go through with jailbreaking, don’t tell Apple about it if something goes wrong as you’ve pretty much invalidated your warranty. Don’t worry though. The good news is that Apple has pretty much created an idiot-proof experience with iOS. If you encounter any problems, just plug into iTunes and restore your firmware. If you still experience more problems, do a Google search and a vocal iOS community may help you fix whatever ails you may have.
How beneficial is jailbreaking? Jailbreaking has in the past been a trendsetter for official iOS revisions. Remember the days before multitasking on an iPhone? Well, there was a jailbreak for that and subsequently after that Apple made it official on iOS. How about the days when pages of apps flooded multiple screens until you ran out of home screens to see what you’ve installed? Well, a jailbreak app called ‘Categories’ solved that issue and Apple later released a more elegant solution called Folders. How about the days pre-tethering of any sort? PDANet solved that problem and when Apple released just USB and Bluetooth tethering, MyWi came to the rescue and added WiFi tethering to the mix without having to go through a carrier, like AT&T. Apple later made WiFi tethering official with iOS 4.3. How about mirroring your iPhone/iPod Touch display on a big screen with the VGA or TV-Out accessories? Before display mirroring was supported on iOS 4.3 and the iPad 2, a jailbreak existed. When Skype and Slingplayer would only work on WiFi, My 3G came to the rescue to fool the apps into thinking they were on WiFi when they were in fact utilizing 3G until revisions made by Apple and AT&T allowed those data intensive apps to be used on 3G. Today’s jailbreak solutions may make their way to the next iOS version of tomorrow. Will you be a trendsetter? What are your top reasons for jailbreaking?
Right now, with iOS 4.3, there is only a complicated solution for Windows users; other platform support may be forthcoming. If you’re a PC user, head on over to Redmond Pie to see what you have to do to jailbreak.