One of those words that gets thrown around tech-savvy websites is “jailbreaking.” Everybody with an Apple device has it jailbroken and running Cydia. Don’t update, the new firmware is tethered. Be sure to preserve your baseband. Is your iPhone unlocked? Have you seen the latest stuff for Dreamboard? Don’t you want to use SSH?
All the terminology and obscure lingo is enough to make any new jailbreaker want to run for the hills. Although not quite as intimidating and unfriendly as the labyrinthine world of Android rooting, jailbreaking can be a stressful and confusing process for new people. That’s where we at TechNorms come it. It’s our job to help explain how jailbreaking works and why you should give it a shot.
So if you feel confused by endless talk of firmwares and basebands and shell commands, relax. We’ll help explain jailbreaking in terms that don’t require a degree in computer science. And don’t worry. Once it’s finished, a good jailbroken Apple product is worth the trouble. Here’s how you can get there.
What is jailbreaking?
In the most general sense, to “jailbreak” is to remove restrictions. Apple products are well-made and fun to use, but they are limited in certain ways. Jailbreaking takes out those limits and gives you more control over your iDevice.
Think of how Apple makes their products. They prefer to design something and tell you, “This is how it should be used.” You can’t swap out the parts of a Mac, you can’t upgrade the memory of an iPhone, and iPods only play music from iTunes.
For most people, that’s OK. They don’t mind the restrictions Apple places on them because those restrictions make things simple. You don’t have to worry about upgrading your RAM because the Mac isn’t easily taken apart.
However, some of us feel a little chafed under all the rules Apple enforces. For example, consider arranging icons. On Android, you can place them anywhere on the screen. On iOS the icons automatically snap to the upper left corner. Why can’t we put them anywhere?
Jailbreaking is the solution to the problem of “Why can’t I do this on my iPhone or iPad?”
When you jailbreak an iDevice, you gain access to a brave new world of ways to change it exactly how you want. It’s all about control. Your device is in Apple’s “jail” and you’re breaking it out.
Is it legal?
Yes. In the United States, Congress passed a law specifically allowing all forms of iOS hacking. You bought the device, it is perfectly legal for you to change it. We could not find any information as to the legality of jailbreaking in other nations. If you are concerned, please check your nation’s laws.
Apple has a somewhat strange relationship with jailbreaking. They allow it and have never prosecuted jailbreakers. Hell, we once took a jailbroken iPod Touch into an Apple Store to see if they could fix the dock connector. They were OK with it.
There is one rather huge catch. Apple can’t stop you from jailbreaking, but they can invalidate your warranty. Let us repeat, jailbreaking will invalidate your warranty. If it’s hacked, it’s no longer covered.
However, there are ways around losing your warranty. If something happens, you can restore your iPhone and wipe away all trace of a jailbreak.
Can I reverse it if I don’t like it?
Yes. One of the great parts of jailbreaking is that it is completely reversible. If something happens, you can plug the iDevice into iTunes and reset it to a new condition. From there just restore from a backup within iTunes and the phone/tablet is as good as new.
If the device is too damaged to restore, then Apple won’t be able to tell that it’s been jailbroken. That’s provided you refrain from writing “HACKED” on the back. We don’t recommend doing this.
Jailbreaking as a whole has greatly improved and offers far fewer risks these days. There is always a very small chance that you can brick your device, though. We have personally jailbroken nine devices (one iPhone, one iPad, and seven iPod Touches) and never permanently damaged one. The worst that can happen is the device is reset to factory new condition.
So, the risks are very minimal. As long as you are careful and stick to the guides, almost all problems can be surmounted.
Should I jailbreak?
That depends. Jailbreaking is an involved process intended only for those who want to get the most performance out of their phones. We find the extra features to be worth the work, but if you’d rather not tinker with your device then don’t bother.
However, the goodies that come with jailbreaking are quite attractive. You can completely change the appearance of your device so that it looks like Android, Windows Phone, Windows 8, Windows Vista, or Mac OS X Lion.
With a jailbreak you can also install the apps which Apple has banned from the App Store. Most of the banned stuff is bad, but others like Comic Reader Mobi were actually banned for offering too much functionality. Pirates like to jailbreak because they can download illegal apps, not that we recommend this.
The real attractiveness of jailbreaking is all the random cool stuff. For example, you can get emulators for the NES/SNES/GBA/N64/PS1 and play classic retro games. We can personally testify that Pokemon on an iPhone is awesome.
There are tons of other miscellaneous jailbreak apps that are super helpful but would never be allowed in the official App Store. For just a few American dollars, you can have wifi tethering for far less than a carrier charges.
The language support in some apps can be sketchy. If you’d prefer to read an app in your native tongue, there’s an app that live-translates other apps. For serious hacking, iFile lets you explore the iOS file system and make major changes.
The bottom line is that there’s a whole lot of helpful stuff available for those who have a jailbreak. Every major feature to come to iOS came to jailbreakers first. Multitasking, copy and paste, Retina support for iPhone apps on iPad, voice command, and quick toggles were all available long before Apple officially released them.
Then there’s security. Believe it or not, jailbreaking actually makes your device more secure. There is a great deal of specialized apps for keeping you safe. Our favorite is an app which acts as a firewall and polices all outgoing connections. It’s a great way to make sure that apps aren’t trying to sneak out data.
What exactly happens after you jailbreak?
The nitty-gritty process of jailbreaking is pretty incomprehensible to everybody who’s not an iOS programmer. The cliff notes version is that jailbreak developers find a security flaw in iOS and use that flaw to install their own code.
That code takes the form of Cydia. When you reboot after a jailbreak, the first thing you notice should be Cydia. It’s sort of the App Store of jailbreaking. It may load slowly and have some advertisements, but it works.
Cydia is where you go to download cool stuff that you can only get with a jailbreak. You see, iOS is built from Mac OS X, which is built from Linux. “Apps” from Cydia are actually specialized Linux packages made to run on iOS.
So when you jailbreak, it changes the rules inside the device to allow installation of packages not from the App Store- Cydia apps. Cydia is where you get the good stuff like emulators and theme hacks. It works like the real App Store, with free and paid apps. Payment is done over Amazon Payments or PayPal.
The overwhelming majority of apps on Cydia are themes- ways to change the look of your iDevice. Genuinely useful tweaks are slightly less common, but still prevalent.
Can I jailbreak my device?
Depends. Jailbreaking takes time. As a general rule, the new Apple products cannot be hacked. Older ones can. As of this writing, every Apple device, even with the latest iOS version can be jailbroken.
The quality of the jailbreak depends on what version of iOS you have. iOS is the operating system for all of Apple’s mobile products. You can check the version by opening the Settings app and going to General > About > Version. That displays the firmware.
Right now, the latest firmware is iOS 7.1.2. If you’re thinking about jailbreaking, we recommend waiting to upgrade the firmware. The lower the firmware, the easier it is to jailbreak. But with a number of new developers venturing into jailbreaking, even the latest version of iOS is hacked within a few days time.
All Apple products up to iOS 7.1 can do a “good” jailbreak, what’s called an untethered jailbreak. What that means is the iDevice can turn on normally, even when hacked.
Almost all Apple devices can be hacked on iOS 7.1.2 as well. However, for the latest new updates on iOS one needs to do a tethered jailbreak. When your iDevice is tethered, that means it cannot turn on without being attached to your PC.
That’s the difference between tethered and untethered. Tethered means it’s tied to the PC. For some, this isn’t a big deal because they carry their laptop with them frequently. We also found it to be not much of a hindrance on our iPad, which we rarely turn off.
So the question of whether you can jailbreak depends on:
A) the device
B) the firmware.
Nowadays you can pretty much jailbreak any device running even the latest version of iOS. See this page for more details.
Jailbreaking is not to be confused with unlocking, a very different process. To unlock an iPhone is to hack it so that it can be used with other carriers. For example, an iPhone bought in the United States is normally compatible with only AT&T.
Unlocking a cell phone is the US has been made legal again.
However, if it is unlocked then you can swap out the SIM card and use the iPhone with any compatible carrier. First you have to jailbreak it. Without a jailbreak, you can’t install the custom stuff.
Whether an iPhone is unlockable depends on the baseband. The baseband is the bit of software that communicates with cell phone towers. Certain basebands can be hacked, and others can’t.
Whether or not jailbreaking is worth it depends on how willing you are to do some work. The benefits are unquestionably great, but they require some effort. We think jailbreaking is a great benefit, but ultimately that choice is up to you.
If the exact process still seems confusing, fear not. We at TechNorms are working on a complete guide to help you jailbreak anything, no matter what device or firmware. Keep an eye out for our complete guide to breaking any iDevice out of Apple’s ever-present and limiting jail.
Now that you’ve learnt about what jailbreaking is all about check out our article that talks about the various aspects of jailbreaking in more detail – Is Jailbreaking Your iPhone a Good Idea?
Do you plan to jailbreak your phone? If yes, what excites you the most about it? Share your thoughts in the comments below.