Much like rooting, loading custom ROMs and kernels and hacking devices is increasingly popular in the Android development community, jailbreaking is the way of iDevice owners who aim to get a little added functionality out of their device. Developers crawl the system after each update, looking for a hole in the software’s security so they can work their magic.
By jailbreaking, iOS users can gain access to Cydia, a third-party, homebrew market where you can purchase and install applications that would not otherwise be available to your iPhone, iPod or iPad. You can install various packages like different themes, icon packs, patches for different home screen layouts, etc. It opens iDevices up to an entirely different world and has garnered quite the following over the years.
Unlike Google with Android, however, Apple does not condone the hackery that goes on with their devices. Google encourages developers to toy and tinker with its software, to manipulate it and create their own, customized versions. Google also encourages its partner manufacturers to support such development. They don't always comply, but most devices are able to be hacked and modded to next to no end.
Apple, on the other hand, does not release the source to their software and is relatively locked down. While it has been ruled perfectly legal for users to ”jailbreak” their iDevices, Apple does everything in its power to make it as difficult as possible for developers.
With almost every software update Apple releases (minor and major), they strive to patch the holes that developers exploit for jailbreaking. When this happens, developers must usually start from scratch and find another vulnerability in the software to exploit. In other words, it can be a time-consuming and brain-numbing process.
It's a never-ending cat and mouse game, one where Apple constantly has the upper hand. Last year, they hired hacker Nicholas Allegra (AKA @Comex on Twitter), as an intern. Allegra was well-known in the jailbreaking community as the guy who created the most simple jailbreak tool to date, JailBreakMe, where jailbreaking was a simple as visiting the site (jailbreakme.com) via mobile Safari and "sliding" to jailbreak. Many assume Apple picked Allegra up to put his skills and wit to good use and help combat the jailbreaking community.
To add credence to those beliefs, ever since Apple started introducing new processor architectures (A5, A5X, etc.) and hired Allegra, it has been taking developers longer and longer to find vulnerabilities to exploit. Thus, it takes more time to find a stable and suitable jailbreak. It took months for devs to crack the iPad 2 and they have yet to release a solid jailbreak for iOS 5.1.
None of this is to say that jailbreaking will come to some inevitable end. As long as Apple continues putting out new software, developers will do their best to hack it.
However, it's becoming increasingly difficult with time, jailbreaks take longer to create and Apple continues to throw more obstacles in the way by patching the vulnerabilities fairly rapidly after the jailbreaks occur. What if jailbreaking becomes more trouble than its worth (which is what Apple is banking on)? What if it begins to take six months or more for developers to find something to exploit?
It's all very possible. Eventually, jailbreaking may require simply sticking with old hardware and software, sacrificing all of the features of shiny, new wares (barring, of course, Apple isn't stealing pages from Cydia apps).
Personally, I don't jailbreak. I have once and it wasn't as friendly or fun as I thought it would be. For my hacking and customization fix, I just stick to Android. The iPhone has and will always be just a stable device that works, as is, for me. But I have a couple friends who feel differently, who obsess over jailbreaking – and rightfully so. They have put money towards Cydia applications and would like to use said apps. And I have heard many who say they wouldn't own an iDevice if they couldn't jailbreak it.
Tell me, readers. As jailbreaking becomes more difficult for iOS developers, will you still consider owning an iDevice? Even if jailbreaking became so slow and troublesome that it wasn't worth the time or effort? Or would you just hang back on old hardware and software to enjoy the pleasures of your unofficial iPhone and iPad apps? Is jailbreaking that important to you?
Image via Cult of Mac