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What is Jailbreaking?

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Definition:

Jailbreak - Jailbreaking is the name given to the process used to modify the operating system running on an iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad to allow the user greater control over their device, including the ability to remove Apple-imposed restrictions and install apps obtained and other content through means other than the official App Store (among the most prevalent of these alternative sources is Cydia).

While jailbreaking was long considered a legal gray area, in July 2010, the U.S. Library of Congress declared that jailbreaking is a right of all iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad owners (as well as owners of other, similar devices from other companies), settling the matter. This ruling was closely tied to a related term, unlocking.

Arguments For and Against Jailbreaking

Apple tightly controls its iOS-based products. These controls are wide-ranging, but include limiting users' ability to customize the look and feel of their devices and preventing users from installing software on the devices that didn't come from Apple's App Store. Apple's rationale for this is that preventing these changes ensures that the devices operate smoothly, with fewer errors, and provide a high-quality experience. By requiring that users only install apps from the App Store, Apple is able to ensure that all apps maintain at least a minimum of coding quality and security, thereby reducing security flaws in these devices and preventing scam and malicious apps from infecting users' devices.

Another argument against jailbreaking is that it can be hard to upgrade jailbroken devices to the latest version of the iOS and that jailbreaking devices, or upgrading already jailbroken devices, can cause them to function incorrectly or stop working altogether.

The opposing view--the one taken by jailbreakers--is that Apple is denying users the freedom to use their belongings the way they'd like and trying to control what gets installed on the devices. Jailbreakers argue that Apple's controls are too restrictive, that they prevent people who want to modify the code of their devices to learn from doing so legitimately, and that Apple's business interests sometimes cause it to prevent apps from being available on the App Store that would otherwise work well for users.

Jailbreak Security

While the upside of jailbreaking is more control over what is installed on a device, and that it sometimes allows users to do things Apple doesn't approve of (such as, creating ringtones before the feature was available in iTunes), it can also cause problems, including data corruption and allowing hackers and criminals to install malicious code on jailbroken devices.

Apple does not support devices that have been damaged due to jailbreaking and may consider them out of warranty.

Jailbreak-Compatible Apple Devices

Apple devices for which there are jailbreaks available include:

  • iPhone
  • iPod touch
  • iPad
  • 2nd and 3rd Generation Apple TV
  • 6th Generation iPod nano (jailbreak not publicly available yet)

What You Can Do With Jailbroken Devices

Some of the things you can do with jailbroken devices include:

  • Change the interface of your iOS device
  • Remove built-in apps that come with the iOS
  • Install apps not authorized by Apple or available through the App Store
  • Get and install paid apps for free (however, this is theft and illegal)
  • Download music, videos, ebooks, and other content for free (in some cases, this is theft)
  • Get tethering without additional fees
  • Access the iOS filesystem

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