In the early days of jailbreaking, the benefits weren’t always that great. Nearly four years into the debut of iOS, however, the jailbreaking community has matured into something amazing. If you’ve neglected to jailbreak your iOS device, there’s no better time than now. Here’s why you should take the plunge and how to get the most out of it once you do.
If you were a zebra who was born and lived her entire life in a zoo, chances are you’d be fairly satisfied with life in a cage. Those of us who don’t live in a cage would look at you and think, wow, I would not want to be that zebra.
While the freedom of a jailbroken iOS device isn’t quite the same as being freed from a cage after years of captivity, the idea is similar. Jailbreaking provides you with solutions to problems Apple takes months, and sometimes years, to fix. Jailbreaking lets you use your device the way you want, limiting you only by your own ability or interest in making your device work how you want it to. Perhaps most importantly, jailbreaking will let you discover things you can do with your phone that you didn’t necessarily realize you could do. There are risks involved, but if you’re up for it, the rewards are greater. Risk can be mitigated and problems can be solved, but freedom of choice is something you either have or you don’t. If you want to bite into the apple of knowledge and see that the better world is actually on the other side, you need to jailbreak your device. Today we’re going to look at how to do it, the many things you can do, and how to survive in a world unprotected by Apple’s cold steel bars.
Performing the Jailbreak
The actual jailbreaking process is fairly easy, but you may very well screw it up the first time. When you’re new to jailbreaking, it can be difficult to figure out exactly what is needed to take the necessary steps for your specific device. No single version of an Apple device works quite the same way, so you need to be sure the jailbreaking process is for your specific device as well as the specific version of iOS that’s installed on it. We have an always up-to-date guide to jailbreaking your iOS device to help keep track of the lastest and prior methods, but here are a few more things it doesn’t hurt to know.
Tethered vs. Untethered
As of this writing, the jailbreak method for the newly released iOS 4.3 is tethered; if you’re still running 4.2.1, you’ve got an untethered jailbreak.
In Case of Failure…
Sometimes the jailbreaking process fails, either because you made a mistake or your iOS device’s stars just weren’t aligned at that particular moment. If your device locks up or has any kind of trouble, don’t panic just yet. While it’s technically possible to brick your device by jailbreaking, it’s very unlikely. I’ve definitely heard from people who’ve had difficulty along the way,but I don’t know of anyone who actually ended up with a dead iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch.
If you get stuck, you should almost always be able to restore your device. All you have to do is get it into restore (DFU) mode and connect it to iTunes. Getting into DFU mode will seem familiar because it’s likely what you did to initiate the jailbreaking process the first time. Assuming your device is off, hold down the power and home buttons for ten seconds, then release the power button and continue holding the home button for ten seconds. (If you need a visual, this kid can show you how to do it.) iTunes will then give you the option of restoring. Do that, try the jailbreak again, and sync with iTunes to get all your content back on your device.
In the event you’re still running into trouble, you may need to try and restore on a different computer. Last year I could not restore on any computer I owned but had no trouble with someone else’s laptop. I’m not clear on the specifics of why this happened, but chances are it had something to do with settings in iTunes. If you’re having trouble, try restoring on a friend’s machine. If that’s not an option, you may want to uninstall and reinstall iTunes. If you’re still stuck after this point, you may need to take your iOS device to Apple and try to get them to fix it. Even though you’re not supposed to jailbreak, if it’s something they can fix pretty quickly they’re not going to hassle you about it (so long as you don’t walk in and announce “Hey, my phone isn’t working because I tried to jailbreak it!”).
The Wonders of the World of Jailbreaking
Once you’ve jailbroken your iOS device, what do you do? There’s this strange new app called Cydia sitting somewhere on your home screen. Cydia is basically the jailbreak app store, featuring several paid and unpaid apps, extensions, and hacks that you can install on your device. Cydia generally doesn’t refer to any of these things as apps, but rather packages. Packages are listed in various repositories, many of which are built into Cydia. Some packages are listed in their own, unique repositories, or just repositories that aren’t part of Cydia’s built-in list. If you ever need to add one, you can do that very easily by opening Cydia, tapping the Manage tab, tapping sources, and typing in the URL of the source you want to add. If you’re looking for a specific package, you can just search for it. The problem is that Cydia’s package listings are vast and there isn’t a lot of browsing you can do, so it’s nice to know what you’re looking for. Here are some of our favorites:
One of the downsides of iOS is its lack of customizability. Owning an iOS device means a certain level of uniformity, but jailbreaking changes all of that. Not only can you download themes from Cydia, as well as an handy app called Theme it, but you can also make extensive home screen customizations that you design yourself. In fact, once you install SSH on your iOS device, you can edit pretty much everything on the device. If you want to deeply customize the look and feel of iOS, jailbreaking will let you change whatever you want. That said, if you’re tooling around in the system it can be easy to mess something up so be sure you’re careful (or at least prepared to restore your phone if things go awry).
iOS can be fairly restrictive. For example, if you want to turn your iPhone into a mobile hotspot or simply tether to your computer, AT&T and Verizon both charge $20 per month for the service even though it doesn’t actually cost them anything to provide (unless you’re on an unlimited data plan and happen to use more data because you’re tethering). Jailbreaking users have a great alternative called MyWi, which turns your phone into a Wi-Fi hotspot for a one-time cost of $20. (That’s once forever, not once per month.) If you want to use your data connection to download files over 20MB, you can buy a package from Cydia called 3G Unrestrictor that will circumvent any limits on your data connection. If you want to use something like Google Voice as your main phone service and integrate it fully into the operating system (making it your default for outgoing calls and texts), you can. Want to use Flash? Install Frash. Whatever the restriction, chances are somebody’s found a way around it. If there’s something you want to override on your iOS device, a quick web search should turn up an easy jailbreak option.
Apple’s often slow to add features to iOS—just take a look at how long it took to get some version of multitasking. Because jailbreak apps can take full advantage of everything iOS has to offer, if you don’t want to wait for Apple to develop a certain feature you probably don’t have to. For example, you can completely customize your button functionality and what various multitouch gestures do using a neat little extension called Activator. Want a better notification system than the intrusive pop-up system that Apple has in place? Try MobileNotifier. Tired of plugging in to sync with iTunes? Get Wi-Fi sync and you don’t even have to be in the same room as your computer. (With the latest beta of Wi-Fi sync, you could even sync with iTunes from another country.) Other great upgrades include adding an easy-access settings panel, extending your dock and home screen to infinity and beyond, installing a VNC server, and getting a card-based or Exposé-style multitasking screen. There are so many ways to add new or better functionality to your device. Often all you have to do is decide what you want.
The Exiled Apps
My favorite use for the iPad is to play emulated SNES games, but you’ll never see an SNES emulator in the iTunes App Store unless it’s an accident. When an app isn’t approved by Apple for one reason or another, often times the developer will try to find it an audience on Cydia. If there’s a particular app that was denied a place in iTunes, be sure to check Cydia and you might just be able to find it.
You may at some point install an app that’s not compatible with your device, and your device will restart into safe mode. Not to worry, however, as you can always troubleshoot problems with CrashReporter. CrashReporter is a very useful app you can find on Cydia that will help you diagnose the problem, find possible culprits, and provide you with detailed crash logs in case you want more information. Crashes can be scary the first time they happen because suddenly you start to wonder if jailbreaking was a good idea, but all you really need to do is figure out which package is causing the problem and uninstall it in Cydia. The worst-case scenario is that you have to perform a full restore on your device and jailbreak again, but most of the time you should be able to troubleshoot with CrashReporter and get to the bottom of the issue.
Is there anything about jailbreaking that you love that we’ve neglected to mention here? Share it in the comments!