Macworld article: ‘Why I continue to jailbreak’ iOS devices

A few days ago we talked about how it’s now illegal to jailbreak your iPhone. A recent article in MacWorld by Senior Editor Chris Breen serves up a confession, of sorts: he’s been jailbreaking phones for years–he’s a veteran of it. And, he’s already applied a new jailbreaking procedure to both his iPhone 5 and his iPad.

(In the previous post I said the term was used to remove the electronic binding that ties a phone to a single cellular service provider. In actuality, Apple’s iOS devices are more properly the target of jailbreaking.)

Wikipedia defines it this way:

iOS jailbreaking is the process of removing the limitations on Apple devices running the iOS operating system through the use of software and hardware exploits – such devices include the iPhoneiPod touchiPad, and second generation Apple TV. Jailbreaking permits root access to the iOS operating system, allowing the download of additional applications, extensions, and themes that are unavailable through the official Apple App Store. Jailbreaking is a form of privilege escalation, and the term has been used to describe privilege escalation on devices by other manufacturers as well. The name refers to breaking the device out of its “jail”, which is a technical term used in Unix-style systems, for example in the term “FreeBSD jail“. A jailbroken iPhoneiPod touch, or iPad running iOS can still use the App Store, iTunes, and other normal functions, such as making telephone calls.

Unlike rooting an Android device, jailbreaking is necessary if the user intends to run software not authorized by Apple. The legality of jailbreaking depends on countries and conditions.

Now, before you think poorly of Mr. Breen, he provides a valid argument for his illicit activity:

Much as I think of myself as an honorable person, I admit that I occasionally break the rules when I believe that doing so harms no one and enhances my life. Take jailbreaking—the process of getting complete access to an intentionally hampered device—for example.

Earlier this week, evasi0n, an untethered jailbreak for iOS 6 and 6.1, was released. (This is the first iOS 6 jailbreak that “sticks” after you restart your device. Previous jailbreaks required that you cable your device to your computer to rebreak it each time you restarted the device—thus the “tethered” versus “untethered” designation.) And, once again, I weighed the benefits and risks of jailbreaking my current devices.

A necessary evil

I’m a veteran jailbreaker—stretching back to the days when the term had yet to be coined and you hacked into the original iPhone via the Mac’s Terminal application. My friend Ben Long and I broke into the phone for one simple reason: to capture screenshots of the iPhone’s interface for a book I was writing. Years later, Ben and I used available tools to jailbreak an iPad so that we could project its entire interface for a Macworld Expo session we were conducting. In each case, a jailbreak was necessary because Apple didn’t provide the features required to accomplish these perfectly reasonable tasks.

That said, it would be inaccurate to claim that I stopped at these purely necessary uses. In those earlier days, people developing apps for jailbroken iOS devices had some terrific ideas—enabling you to do things such as tether other devices to the phone for free, block unwanted SMS messages, remotely browse the contents of your device, and perform tasks over a 3G network that were normally restricted to Wi-Fi. Jailbreak apps also provided features such as an endless supply of themes, a single drop-down menu for configuring common settings, and notifications. And although jailbreaking is not the same thing as unlocking, a jailbreak was necessary if you wished to unlock your iPhone (a process that the Librarian of Congress recently determined to be illegal). When I found a feature helpful, I adopted it.

Breen says the main reason for his original jailbreaks were to provide the iPhone and iPad with some features he needed in the course of his work as a Macworld contributing writer and editor. He adds this:

Yet when I saw that evasi0n was in the wild, I didn’t hesitate to jailbreak my iPhone and iPad. Why?

I’m now too old for the leather jacket and hipster language that would define me as a rebel. And I don’t hold any truck with those who think they’re sticking it to The Man by skirting a device’s protections. I jailbreak to gain features that make my iPhone and iPad more useful. Specifically, I jailbreak to add a couple of forbidden apps.

The first is Ryan Petrich’s $4 DisplayOut (available through the Cydia store). This is the app I once used to project a device’s interface when Apple didn’t provide that functionality. Although I no longer need it for that purpose, it offers one feature that I can’t live without when I’m giving an iOS-based presentation: the ability to display finger taps.

My iOS devices are not jailbroken, nor do I foresee them becoming that way any time soon. Don’t misunderstand me, it’s not that I am the holier-than-thou morally upstanding do-gooder sort. I’ve just never seen a need to do it, never even gave it much thought…unlike Breen, who has real reasons to need to do that. And, if the legality was all that was holding me back, I’d point out that it only became illegal last month. I’d had plenty of time before to do it.

Breen closes with these thoughts:

In August 2010 I considered the pros and cons of jailbreaking your iPhone, and my feelings on the subject have changed little in two and a half years. As I’ve described, doing it has clear benefits for me. But clearly this is edge-case use, and jailbreaking isn’t for everyone. When you jailbreak your iOS device, you void your Apple warranty, you have to be more careful about the apps you install, and you risk a less stable device.

My most fervent hope is that iOS (and media license agreements) will evolve to the point where I find jailbreaking entirely unnecessary. Until that time comes, however, I’m a jailbreaker.

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