Jailbreaking 101

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What Is Jailbreaking?

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Normally, an iPad or other iOS devices such as an iPhone or iPod can only download apps that have been approved by Apple and are available in the App Store. Jailbreaking is a process that frees the iPad from this limitation, opening up the device to additional features and apps available outside of the App Store, including apps that were rejected by Apple for various reasons.

Jailbreaking does not limit the core features of the device, and a jailbroken iPad can still purchase and download apps from Apple's App Store. However, to download apps that were rejected by Apple or that leverage the additional features provided by jailbreaking, users must utilize a third-party app store. Cydia, which is usually installed during the jailbreaking process, is the most popular app store for jailbroken iOS devices. Icy is an alternative to Cydia.

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Is it legal to jailbreak an iPad, iPhone or iPod?

This is where it gets a little confusing.  It is legal to jailbreak an iPhone, but it is not legal to jailbreak an iPad.   The Library of Congress ruled that it was legal for a person to jailbreak an iPhone to install legally-obtained software, but that the term 'tablet' was too loosely defined to allow an exemption for tablets.   

This makes jailbreaking an iPad a violation of copyright law.  Although if you are thinking about jailbreaking your device, this might be more of an ethical dilemma than a practical one.  It is clear from the Library of Congress ruling that they believe jailbreaking is okay, they just want a better definition of a tablet.  And Apple suing an individual over it would not only be a PR nightmare, it would allow the courts to decide the issue.  And the courts have sided with the people on similar issues.  

However, it is worth noting that jailbreaking does terminate the warranty of the device.  A new or refurbished iPad comes with a one-year warranty with the option to extend this by a year with AppleCare+, so if your iPad is very new, jailbreaking could prevent you from getting a free repair if your iPad malfunctions.   

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Should You Jailbreak Your iPad?

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"To jailbreak, or not to jailbreak, that is the question. Whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the loss and outrage of denied apps or to take up arms against the app store dictators by opposing them."

If Hamlet were alive today, his famous speech may have gone something like that. Apple has at times presided over the App Store like a dictator, sometimes allowing their own interests to override the interest of their users. Of course, sticking it to "the man" really isn't the best reason to jailbreak your device, but there are some good reasons to help your iPad escape from its Apple-imposed prison.

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Good Reasons to Jailbreak:

  • Access to apps not found on the App Store. The obvious reason to jailbreak is to get access to those apps that Apple did not approve for the App Store. Apple has strict guidelines on what is allowed and what is not allowed, with apps that access certain features of the device or replicate default features often getting the book. For example, an app that switched Bluetooth on or off would be handy to have on your main, but because it accesses a part of the device that Apple doesn't want developers touching, it would be denied for the App Store.
  • Greater customization. Along with third-party apps that wouldn't make it through Apple's approval process comes a lot of tools that will let you customize your iPad experience. These include different skins for the device, customized sounds, the ability to place an app on any part of the home screen grid or even customizing the home button to shut down all of your running apps at once.
  • More access. Because jailbreaking frees up access to parts of the device that Apple would normally restrict, it gives users much greater control over the device. This allows users to have greater access to the file system and even unlocks the ability to communicate with the device from another device, which means you can connect your iPad to your PC and have greater control over what you can see and do.

Good Reasons Not to Jailbreak:

  • It's technical. There are some inherent risks to jailbreaking. Not only does it void the warranty, which means you can't go down to your local App Store and ask the technicians manning the Genius Bar to help you out with problems. Also, while rare, it is possible to 'brick' your device during the process if you don't follow the instructions correctly. This results in a useless device. Suffice to say, if tinkering with your device makes you nervous, you should not be jailbreaking it.
  • It opens up your device. While the idea of malware overrunning the Cydia and Icy app stores is sometimes blown out of proportion, the device itself is definitely more vulnerable to attack. Several worms that only hit jailbroken devices have been reported, and because there isn't an approval process, it is easier for malware to exist in the third-party app stores. This makes it more important to do the research on apps you download rather than just reading the app store description and tapping the install button.
  • Updates become more of a hassle. You cannot update a jailbroken iPad without erasing the jailbreak. This means you will need to re-jailbreak the device after updating the operating system. This includes downloading all of those custom apps again.   The sheer process of jailbreaking after major updates may be more trouble than jailbreaking is worth.  
  • Your iPad will crash more. Another side effect of a jailbroken iPad is that it is more likely to crash. Because apps available for jailbroken devices can access features and APIs not available for Apple-approved apps, these features may not be tested as well and may not interact as smoothly.
  • Android may be a better choice.  The biggest advantage of Android is the ability to tweak and customize the device.  Google doesn't exercise the same control over the Play store that Apple does over the App Store, and Google's Android OS allows more access to the file system and other parts of the operating system.  If it is the customization you crave, Android may be the better choice.
  • It voids the warranty.  This was already mentioned, but it is important enough to mention again.  If your iPad is still in warranty, jailbreaking will void it.  

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