You Don’t Want to Jailbreak Your Phone

Just because someone says you can jailbreak iOS doesn’t mean you should

There was a little blip of a news item over this week and last: a hacking group discovered a little hole in iOS and basically the iPhone’s invincibility. Once they exploited that vulnerability, they were able to craft a rare jailbreak for the iPhone.

jailbreaking phone
Lifewire / Joshua Seong

People seemed oddly cheered by this idea, that they could unlock the secrets of their iPhone and do with it what they will.

I don’t get it.

Are people that dissatisfied with their current access, the millions of things they can do on their pocket-sized computers, most of them without paying a dime up front, that they feel the need to metaphorically crack the thing open and muck about?

What special thing is the average person going to do with their jailbroken iPhone?

Oh, I know, they’ll start side-loading apps. Meaning, instead of the App Store, they'll use Joe’s Application Store and grab and install untested, untrustworthy, potentially catastrophically dangerous apps on the device they use to literally manage their lives.

In the meantime, why don’t they fill their basement with water and declare it an underground pool?

Right? It’s that stupid.

The History of Jailbreaking

 The idea of jailbreaking is almost as old as the iPhone. Prior to that, “jailbreak” meant criminals on the loose. Now it means bypassing the controls of the hardware and operating system to do whatever you want with the smartphone.

Steve Jobs and first iPhone
Steve Jobs introduces the very first iPhone in 2007. John Schroter

When Apple first released the iPhone in 2007, it supported HTML apps and only ran on the AT&T network. That in and of itself sounds pretty limiting, but remember, we called this the “Jesus Phone” and were more apt to venerate than mess with it.

It’s Apple’s fault we eventually grew so fixated with jailbreaking our iPhones.

Over a decade ago, Apple started banning some Google apps (like Google Voice) from the App Store. A jailbroken phone could side-load these beloved apps. The company also started exerting control over how much data some apps could use, which meant your Sling app might choke when trying to stream a baseball game to your phone. Early versions of iOS didn’t support network tethering, but jailbreaking did. Plus, you couldn’t take your iPhone to Paris and pop in a local SIM, but jailbreaking could help you do that.

Subsequent hardware and iOS updates changed all of this. Apple stopped blocking Google apps. I regularly travel outside the country and swap in another SIM. New iPhones even support eSims so you can support a second carrier and number. We now have LTE mobile broadband and no longer need Apple to throttle certain apps, and all networks and iPhones now support tethering.

Do Your Own Thing

We have tremendous freedom with our current iPhone and iOS technology and yet jailbreaking is still some kind of rose-colored dream. Even now, there are almost 19 million Google results for “How to Jailbreak an iPhone.”

So when news dropped about a zero-day vulnerability that a hacker group used to exploit and create an iOS jailbreak, people were excited. The instructions for jailbreaking an iPhone looked complicated, but it would be worth it because you’d have a fungible, jailbroken device.

iPhones
Yes, you could've jailbroken an iPhone 11 Pro with the hack. Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

Apple never publicly commented on the hack, but it only took a week for Apple to deliver iOS update 13.5.1 (just a week or so after the last one) that closed the hole.

Stories I read dutifully reported the patch but then added that if you wanted to maintain the ability to jailbreak, perhaps you should avoid updating your phone.

What?

That’s a seriously terrible idea. Leaving aside the fact that some believe Apple only updates iOS to slowly cripple old phones so you have to buy a new one (they don’t, you’ll eventually buy a new one anyway), those updates fix bugs and even introduce new features, like tools for Contact Tracing and Face ID’s new ability to recognize that you’re wearing a mask. Also, I want security patches to ensure that no one except me (and maybe Apple) can mess with my iPhone.

Having control is a wonderful thing and I know that some of you have looked longingly across the fence at the Android yard where side-loaded apps are still a thing. However, Android and Google recognized years ago, after way too many malware-filled apps slipped onto Android phones, that it’s not necessarily a good thing. Over the years, it’s worked with and cajoled third-party software providers to get all of them into the Google Play Store and under the watchful eye of their app vetting system.

Getting your apps though a central store is still the best way to protect your smartphone and ensure it keeps running.

You Will Break it for Real

Jailbreaking iPhones has never been a good idea. Even if you get that temporary full control, your iPhone my never accept another iOS update or, if it does, the next update could brick the device, making it completely unusable.

I know, you still don’t understand why you can’t buy an iPhone and have true control. Think about it this way. Your refrigerator just works (at least I hope it does). You can, obviously, put whatever you want in it, but you have no idea, really, how it stays cold and you do not want responsibility for keeping the condenser running or understanding the gases that keep you Jell-O chilled and ice frozen. Or do you?

It’s Apple’s fault we eventually grew so fixated with jailbreaking our iPhones.

Perhaps you’re demanding an “unlocked fridge,” so you can decide what magic gas keeps it cool and find and replenish it with said gas when it runs low or leaks out because, now that you have full control, you used third-party parts to manage the pipes, nuts, and gaskets. Your fridge no longer works, and your food is all spoiled, but at least it’s yours and it’s jailbroken.

So What

Stop being interested in jailbreaking your phone. Stop whining about losing the ability to jailbreak it. Start appreciating that this 6.84-ounce computer can do almost anything you can think of and that when you take it out of your pocket and lovingly caress the screen, it responds and never asks you, “Why aren’t I jailbroken?”