Jailbreaking an iPhone Explained

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The word "jailbreaking" is mentioned a lot in relation to the iPhone. Some people may even have told you that it's something you should do to your iPhone. Before you do anything, though, you need to make sure you understand what jailbreaking your iPhone means, along with its risks and benefits.

Jailbreaking Explained

Jailbreaking changes the operating system running on an iPhone or iPod touch to give you more control. With it, you can remove Apple's restrictions on customizing the phone and on what apps you can use. It allows you to install apps and other content from sources other than the official App Store (the most popular of these is Cydia).

Jailbreaking has often discussed along with unlocking. While they are somewhat similar in that they give the user more control over their phone, they're not the same. Unlocking is a legal a right that all consumers have to move their phones from one phone company to another. Jailbreaking, on the other hand, is a gray area.

What You Can Do With Jailbroken Devices

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

  • Customize look and feel of your iOS device.
  • Delete the pre-installed apps that come with the iOS (though that feature was also officially added iOS 10.
  • Install apps that are not available in the App Store.
  • Get paid apps for free (sounds good, except that's theft and therefore illegal).
  • Download music, videos, ebooks, and other content for free (in some cases, this is also theft).
  • Access the iOS filesystem, something that's normally hidden from users.

The Arguments Against Jailbreaking an iPhone

The arguments against jailbreaking an iPhone include:

  1. Unreliable Operation. Apple tightly controls how its devices work, limiting your ability to customize them. Apple prevents these changes to ensure that the devices operate smoothly, with fewer errors, more security, and with a high-quality experience. Jailbreaking gives you control, but can also introduce problems and instability.
  2. Security Concerns. Because Apple requires that users only install apps from the App Store, all apps offer a minimum of quality and security. This reduces security flaws and prevents spam and malicious apps from infecting your device. Jailbroken devices can be attacked through apps that are not approved by Apple.
  3. Vulnerability to Attack. The iPhone is the most secure smartphone platform and sees the fewest hacks, viruses, and other attacks. The only time that an iPhone is particularly vulnerable to attack is when it's been jailbroken.
  4. Upgrade problems. Jailbroken devices can be hard to upgrade to the latest version of the iOS. This is because new versions of the iOS often close the code loopholes used by jailbreaks. You may not be able to upgrade your OS and keep the jailbreak. 
  5. No more official support. Jailbreaking voids an iPhone's warranty, so if you have problems with your phone, you can't get support from Apple.
  6. Decreasing Benefits. One of the big benefits of jailbreaking used to be that there was a robust set of apps to install. That's no longer true. Some of the major alternative app stores are dying off and new apps aren't being released.
  7. Technical Complexity. Jailbreaking isn't always simple. Doing it right can require more technical skill than the average person has. If you try to jailbreak without knowing what you're doing, you can seriously — even permanently — damage your iPhone.

One kind of problem that can be caused by jailbreaking is the white screen of death. Find out what that is, why it's not as bad as it seems, and how to fix it in How to Easily Get Rid of the iPhone White Screen of Death.

Maybe the best argument against jailbreaking is that it's dying out. There are fewer jailbreaks being released and those that do come out are released less quickly. Some prominent collections of software for jailbroken devices went offline in 2017 and in late 2018 the owner of Cydia removed the ability for users to buy new apps. Taken together, there future of jailbreaking is pretty bleak. To learn more, check out All About Cydia

The Arguments for Jailbreaking an iPhone

On the other hand, the arguments in favor of jailbreaking the iPhone include:

  1. Freedom of choice. Advocates of jailbreaking say that Apple is denying you the freedom to use devices that you own in the way that you want. They argue that Apple's controls are too restrictive and that they prevent people who want to modify their devices to learn from doing so legitimately.
  2. Removing restrictions. Jailbreakers also say, sometimes correctly, that Apple's business interests can cause it to block apps from the App Store that would otherwise work well. They say that you should have access to those apps.
  3. Getting content for free. A less noble, but still true, argument in favor of jailbreaking is that it makes it easier to get paid apps and media (music, movies, etc.) for free. This is piracy and stealing from the people who produce that content, so it's not a good argument in favor of jailbreaking. Still, it is one benefit for the unscrupulous.

Apple Devices That Can Be Jailbroken

Jailbreaks can be performed based on the device or the version of the iOS it runs, but not all devices or iOS versions have tools available that work for them. Jailbreaks are available for the following:

  Available Jailbreaks  
iPhone iPhone X
iPhone 8 series
iPhone 7 series
iPhone 6S series
iPhone 6 series
iPhone 5S & 5C
iPhone 5
iPhone 4S
iPhone 4
iPhone 3GS
iPhone 3G
Original iPhone
iPod touch 6th gen. iPod touch
5th gen. iPod touch
2nd gen. iPod touch
original iPod touch
 
iPad

iPad Pro
iPad Air 2
iPad Air
iPad 4

iPad 3
iPad 2
Original iPad
iPad mini - all models
Apple TV Apple TV 4K
4th gen. Apple TV
2nd gen. Apple TV
 
watchOS
version
watchOS 4
watchOS 3
 
iOS version

iOS 11
iOS 10
iOS 9
iOS 8.1.1 - 8.4
iOS 7 - 7.1.2

iOS 6
iOS 5
iOS 4
iOS 3

tvOS version

tvOS 11
tvOS 10
tvOS 9

 

There are no known publicly available jailbreaks for the original, non-iOS iPods.