Jailbreaking the iPhone
January 29, 2008
Today I spent a wasteful amount of time attempting to "jailbreak" my iPhone after applying the much-touted 1.1.3 software update from Apple. Jailbreaking is process by which hackers devise methods to gain access to the phone's UNIX file system so you can install third party applications beyond those provided by Apple. Apple has their own plans to provide these applications, likely for a fee via iTunes, so they're very much inclined to make this process challenging, thus forcing most iPhone users to get their applications only through Apple-approved methods.
Each time a software update is released, previous methods to gain access to the file system are patched and hackers must find new windows into the phone. This process takes about a week or so, and then various methods begin to appear on the Internet, allowing users to "jailbreak" their phones. Once you have a number of third party applications to which you've become accustomed, you have to carefully weigh the decision: do I upgrade to the new software and lose my applications, or keep my applications and miss out on cool new Apple features?
This last update was a tough call. Apple provided a really cool pseudo-GPS that's pretty darn accurate, the ability to customize your screen, the ability to put bookmarks on your desktop (called the "Springboard" in iPhone parlance) and a variety of other interface enhancements. Balance this against the number of fun games, Netflix-management tools, and other erstwhile unapproved applications that I found really useful, and you have a real dilemma on whether or not to upgrade.
Over the weekend, hackers released the latest jailbreak method allowing me to upgrade and re-install the applications I enjoy. I probably jumped on this too early as the process was not for the feint of heart, requiring multiple firmware flashes, a bevy of UNIX commands and moving fils around over wireless FTP. Today a one-click version of the jailbreak was released that took out most of the angst and made the process quite easy. I'm in the process of finishing that as I write this, so I'm not 100% sure yet if its a success but I'm hopeful.
You might have read or heard about "unlocking" the iPhone. This is a different hack where users attempt to use the phone and all its features (sans visual voicemail) on a carrier other than AT&T. There may be good reasons for wanting to do this that I'm not appreciating; perhaps you live in a place like Vermont that doesn't have AT&T coverage, or you live in Canada or Japan or some place that doesn't yet sell "official" iPhone service. I supposed some enjoy the thrill of "sticking it to the man" and going their own way. As an Apple shareholder, I'm opposed to unlocking. Apple gets about $10 month from each iPhone/ATT&T subscriber. This lucrative revenue sharing is easy money and really makes the iPhone profitable.
So why third party applications? Well, the phone comes with many nice features like mail, the Web, photos, camera, etc., but if you're not connected to the Internet, there's really not much you can do. I enjoy the games I've installed, a clever little tools for controlling your home's music, managing your Netflix queue, and yes, even watching porn. At least, that's what I've been told...
Since finishing yesterday's post on jailbreaking the iPhone, I'm happy to report that I now have a 100% functional 1.1.3 iPhone WITH third party applications. I should also report that I have not installed iSteamy, nor do I intend to...