Montgomery: iDevice users can benefit from jailbreaks

Chris Montgomery goes through the ins and outs of jailbreaking iDevices.

Chris Montgomery

Chris MontgomeryThe screen of my iPad is emitting a warm yellowish glow this evening, having adjusted its temperature shortly after sunset. It’s good for my circadian rhythm, the app developers said. As a photojournalism student at Temple, I need to sleep as efficiently as possible. But not yet. I need to keep writing. I’ll sleep when I’m dead.

I tap and hold my index finger on the clock in the status bar at the top of the screen. “WiFi Enabled.” Perfect. Now I double-tap the clock. “Bluetooth Enabled.” Even better. Now my wireless keyboard actually does something more than make keyboard noises.

I see an email from WordPress telling me “Click This Link” has posted a new comment on an old entry from Broad & Cecil, The Temple News’ news blog. I touch the link. It opens up in Google Chrome, my iPad’s default browser. Spam: delete.

But it was one of the funnier spam comments I’ve seen in a while: “The bullet is ejected from the nostrils,’s, math scores be raised,parajumper’s outlet,” [sic]. So I select the sentence as usual, and when the contextual menu pops up, I touch the “Tweet” button. Boom.
@montchr says something witty, and people retweet. I’m on a roll.

Do any of you use an iDevice? I’m feeling lucky tonight – my guess is yes. Does any of that stuff above sound sort of “off” to you?

If your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch is jailbroken, then it should sound just about right on. If it’s not jailbroken, it’s possible you’re wondering, “What kind of freakish, Qlippothic shadow-world is this web editor from anyhow, and why would they ever hire this black-hatted criminal?”

Well, I can’t answer that question, but I can certainly tell you why you might want to jailbreak your phone and that, as of Monday, Feb. 4, iOS 6 users can freely jailbreak their iDevices for the first time since iOS 6 was released in mid-September 2012.

In 2007, Apple released the iPhone, its first device to use iOS. Only eight days later, the group of hackers appropriately known as the iPhone Dev Team were able to easily jailbreak, or gain “root” access to, the iPhone’s file system. To put it simply, jailbreaking, according to the website, means “removing restrictions in your device’s default software so that it can run third-party apps and extensions – themes and tweaks – not approved by Apple.” In the beginning, however, the jailbreak was used primarily for simply loading custom ringtones onto the iPhone’s file system.

Despite the countless hours of their personal time that iOS hackers devote to develop the jailbreak, for us end-users it’s only a three-step process of plugging in, backing up your data and pressing a single button, all in a nice graphical user interface.

Ever since the days of iOS 2.0 the best source of third-party apps for iOS is the Cydia Store. Cydia has something for every skill level. Cydia not only sells some premium modifications and themes for customizing iOS, but it also offers many obscure tweaks for developers seeking low-level control over some of the most basic hardware functions of the iDevice. No app in the App Store will give you that kind of hardware-level control over your device. And that’s how Apple wants to keep it.

A lot of people criticize Apple for using a “walled garden” approach to their products. While Apple has built a lot of its strength on a seamless and polished user experience on both the hardware and software level, Apple’s rigid proprietary control may hinder innovation and eventually lead to its own irrelevance.

“Apple changed the way we think about mobile computing with the iPhone, but they have also led the charge in creating restrictive computers and restrictive marketplaces for software,” wrote Micah Lee and Peter Eckersley of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a prominent non-profit digital rights organization. “You may have purchased an iPad, but unless you’ve exploited a vulnerability in iOS to jailbreak it, there are many things you cannot install on it.”

When it comes to comparing Android and iOS, both have their strengths and weaknesses. But Android’s biggest weapon against iOS is its out-of-the-box extensibility. Not only does Android allow users to install third-party apps from the Google Play Store, but it allows these apps to have much more control over how the device’s hardware reacts to user input. For this kind of power, iOS users have to go to the extra step of jailbreaking their iDevice. After the iDevice is jailbroken, users of the ubiquitous Apple products are more likely to have a consistent and easier time working with the modifications they download from Cydia than they would if they were using Android.

Apple claims that jailbreaking voids the device’s warranty. That’s fine. If your iDevice ever needs servicing, all you have to do is restore to a non-jailbroken version of iOS. There’s no way they will ever be able to know, and there’s no way you will ever mess up your iDevice’s actual hardware.

Still, it’s important to keep in mind the great axiom, “with great power comes great responsibility.” This certainly rings true when opening doors that the jailbreak offers you. While it can be tempting to download and install every theme and modification you see in the Cydia Store, it’s best to use caution not to clutter up your iDevice. It is, after all, a personal computer in the palm of your hand.

Apple would prefer it if jailbreaking was illegal in the U.S. Fortunately, jailbreaking the iPhone is legal. Jailbreaking iPhones is currently granted legal exemption from the anti-circumvention laws of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, an exemption made possible by the work of the EFF. But because the DMCA exemption only applies to jailbreaking mobile phones, for atleast the next three years the iPad jailbreak is illegal.

Personally, I think the system of DMCA exemptions is illogical and arbitrary, as the exemptions change every three years.

The jailbreaking community is huge – too huge for me to summarize in 1,000 words. If you’re interested in learning more about how you can use your iDevice to its fullest potential, check out JailbreakQA’s FAQs.

Chris Montgomery can be reached at or on Twitter at @montchr.

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