Apple

Jailbreaking iOS: Find out if it's right for you, and learn how to do it

You can hack your iOS device to run applications that aren't in the iTunes App Store, but should you? Cory Bohon answers that question and shows you how to perform a jailbreak.

Jailbreak

Jailbreaking originated with the first generation iPhone, before the iTunes App Store allowed folks to download applications onto their device. It was supposed to be an outlet for developers and power users to experience a mobile platform unlike any other, but then Apple officially sanctioned mobile 3rd-party apps. Today, jailbreaking allows you to perform all sorts of various hacks for iOS — from theming apps to apps that allow you to tether your data connection to your Mac.

What do I get when I jailbreak?

At the heart of Jailbreaking is the app store application called "Cydia." This is the application that will get installed on your device (among some others, depending on the particular jailbreak that you use) when you jailbreak.

The Cydia application (Figure A) allows you to download unauthorized 3rd-party applications, install them, then (through a process of "respringing") have them show up on the home screen of your iOS device with all of your iTunes App Store apps. This will not affect any other components of your device, and it allows authorized and unauthorized applications to coexist peacefully.

Figure A

Figure A

The Cydia app store provides free and paid apps that aren't allowed on the official iTunes App Store.

Unauthorized applications might be those that allow the use of background services that Apple doesn't sanction inside of the App Store; or it might be apps that allow unauthorized activity (such as tethering), which are currently banned from the App Store due to carrier agreements.

Does jailbreaking unlock my device?

This is a common misconception: Jailbreaking your device is not the same as unlocking your phone. Jailbreaking simply hacks the iOS operating system to install unauthorized 3rd-party applications through a specially designed "app store" for jailbroken applications.

Unlocking your device, on the other hand, is the act of removing the carrier lock to be able to place your device on a different cellular network (such as switching a GSM iPhone from AT&T to T-Mobile).

That being said, there are apps in Cydia that can also help you unlock your phone.

How do I jailbreak iOS?

The actual process of jailbreaking your iOS device has evolved from something for only the elite geeky to something that everyone can now do. Before you get started, here's what you'll need:

  • iOS device on iOS 7.1.x (check Settings | General | About to get your specific version number)
  • Pangu Jailbreak Tool (available for Mac and Windows)

There are many different iOS jailbreaking utilities, but Pangu is the newest and hottest one in the jailbreaking community, and it's also available for iOS 7 devices. Be sure that you're running iOS 7.1.x. If you're not, then the least worrisome issue is that it just doesn't work; in the worst case, your device may require a factory restore.

Let's see the steps for completing the jailbreaking process:

  1. Connect only the iOS device you want to jailbreak to your Mac or Windows machine through USB
  2. Download, install, and open the Pangu utility
  3. Click the Jailbreak button, and follow the on-screen instructions (Figure B)
  4. You'll be prompted half way through the installation to open the Pangu app that gets placed on your iOS device, and this will help you complete the jailbreak process on the device.

Figure B

Figure B

Pangu will guide you through the jailbreak process and help you install Cydia on your device.

Once jailbroken, your device will restart, and you'll be booted back into a jailbroken version of iOS. You may notice some oddities, like a changed boot screen and new software on your device. The apps that get installed on your device are installed through the jailbreak utility, and they include features that allow you to install third-party apps (after all, that's what jailbreaking is all about — installing the software that you want to use, regardless of what's officially sanctioned).

If you find that you no longer want to have your device jailbroken, the only way to reverse the jailbreak is by fully restoring your device from iTunes. For details on how to complete this process, check out this help guide on the Apple Support website.

What are the caveats?

As with all hacks, there are some caveats that you'll probably want to learn about before doing the jailbreak on your device:

  • You may experience decreased battery life (jailbreak applications that can be installed may run in the background, decreasing your iOS device battery life)
  • It may void your warranty (Apple has already said that jailbreaking may affect your warranty, and you'll never get service at the Genius Bar with a jailbroken device. You can always restore the device with iTunes before taking it in for warranty service, though.)
  • You cannot upgrade your device once it's jailbroken without running the risk of potential issues or jailbreak removal (usually when upgrading your device to a new iOS release, it removes the jailbreak, leaving you unable to jailbreak until the next jailbreak utility is released)
  • It can make iOS unstable, leading to increased app crashes.
  • Some iTunes App Store apps react to jailbroken devices by disabling themselves to prevent App Store piracy.
  • Jailbreaking can open security holes in iOS and make your device less secure to outside attacks and hacks.
  • You may not have a need for it (remember, the only purpose of a jailbreak is to install unsupported apps and hacks to iOS — if this isn't your cup of tea, then doing this might not be for you)

Even with all of the caveats, some users might still want to go for it and jailbreak their device. If you fall into this category, then proceed with caution.

Have you jailbroken your iOS device? Do you like it? What are some of the apps that you use from the Cydia store? Share your opinion and experience in the discussion thread below.

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About Cory Bohon

Cory Bohon is an indie developer specializing in iOS and OS X development. He runs a software company called Cocoa App and is also a developer at MartianCraft. He was introduced to technology at an early age and has been writing about his favorite te...

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