Digital Thingamajigs
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Friday, February 11, 2011

Jailbreaking Part I: What is it?

So, what’s all this talk about jailbreaking? Sounds illegal, doesn’t it? If nothing else, it’s pretty scary sounding … combining words like “jail” and “break.” That term must have been started by the phone manufacturers. I mean, why not just call it lovetapping or puppy-petting?

Anyway, I was curious about jailbreaking my iPhone 4, so I did a little research. The good news is that if you’re thinking about doing it, it’s totally legal, easy, quick and free. The bad news: It could void your warranty and, in extreme cases, “brick” your phone, which means you'll have to completely reset it. And if you have no idea what jailbreaking is and why it’s so tempting, I’ll try to clear things up a bit.

So, what is jailbreaking?

Basically, it unlocks your phone. And although the iPhone includes the App Store with hundreds of thousands of apps, Apple has ultimate control over what apps can be sold. This mean if the app doesn’t live up to Apple’s standards or competes with Apple software, it will probably not make it to the App Store. And that can prevent many useful, highly entertaining apps from making it onto your phone. 

Unlocking — or jailbreaking — your iPhone allows you to install apps from sources other than Apple, the most common of which is Cydia. I once heard a great analogy somewhere comparing Apple's control over the iPhone to buying a blender and having the manufacturer tell you that you're not allowed to make a margarita with it. Jailbreaking gives you — the phone's owner — full control of your device. It also allows you to use other carriers besides AT&T. Although that seems less important now that Verizon is on board with the iPhone 4.

Confused? Curious? If so, check out the next installment in my jailbreaking series, “Jailbreaking Part II: Should I do it?” when I will discuss the pros and cons of unlocking an iPhone 4.