Much as I think of myself as an honorable person, I admit that I occasionally break the rules when I believe that doing so harms no one and enhances my life. Take jailbreaking—the process of getting complete access to an intentionally hampered device—for example.
Earlier this week, evasi0n, an untethered jailbreak for iOS 6 and 6.1, was released. (This is the first iOS 6 jailbreak that “sticks” after you restart your device. Previous jailbreaks required that you cable your device to your computer to rebreak it each time you restarted the device—thus the “tethered” versus “untethered” designation.) And, once again, I weighed the benefits and risks of jailbreaking my current devices.
A necessary evil
I’m a veteran jailbreaker—stretching back to the days when the term had yet to be coined and you hacked into the original iPhone via the Mac’s Terminal application. My friend Ben Long and I broke into the phone for one simple reason: to capture screenshots of the iPhone’s interface for a book I was writing. Years later, Ben and I used available tools to jailbreak an iPad so that we could project its entire interface for a Macworld Expo session we were conducting. In each case, a jailbreak was necessary because Apple didn’t provide the features required to accomplish these perfectly reasonable tasks.
That said, it would be inaccurate to claim that I stopped at these purely necessary uses. In those earlier days, people developing apps for jailbroken iOS devices had some terrific ideas—enabling you to do things such as tether other devices to the phone for free, block unwanted SMS messages, remotely browse the contents of your device, and perform tasks over a 3G network that were normally restricted to Wi-Fi. Jailbreak apps also provided features such as an endless supply of themes, a single drop-down menu for configuring common settings, and notifications. And although jailbreaking is not the same thing as unlocking, a jailbreak was necessary if you wished to unlock your iPhone (a process that the Librarian of Congress recently determined to be illegal). When I found a feature helpful, I adopted it.
But as iOS has evolved, users have had fewer reasons to jailbreak. Screenshots are now as simple as briefly holding down the on/off and home buttons. You can project an iOS device’s interface pretty simply. Apple has provided more ways to customize the interface. Tethering is now available (but not freely so with some carriers). Apps such as PhoneView make it possible to pull important files off your device. And the carriers and Apple have loosened up on what you can and can’t do over a cellular network.
Jailbreaking for work and play
Yet when I saw that evasi0n was in the wild, I didn’t hesitate to jailbreak my iPhone and iPad. Why?
I’m now too old for the leather jacket and hipster language that would define me as a rebel. And I don’t hold any truck with those who think they’re sticking it to The Man by skirting a device’s protections. I jailbreak to gain features that make my iPhone and iPad more useful. Specifically, I jailbreak to add a couple of forbidden apps.
The first is Ryan Petrich’s $4 DisplayOut (available through the Cydia store). This is the app I once used to project a device’s interface when Apple didn’t provide that functionality. Although I no longer need it for that purpose, it offers one feature that I can’t live without when I'm giving an iOS-based presentation: the ability to display finger taps.
At the recent Macworld/iWorld conference, I did a presentation entitled "How to Play 'Louie Louie' on Your iPad in Under 5 Minutes." That talk required that I run GarageBand from my iPad and that the audience see exactly what strings, keys, chords, and controls I was tapping on. Without my taps being denoted by the white circles DisplayOut provides, the audience would have been lost.
The other app is something that I use for play rather than work: UnrestrictPremium2. The idea is simple and worthy. iOS devices are capable of projecting most of their video over AirPlay or a wired video connection. UnrestrictPremium2 changes that most to nearly all.
Specifically, certain video-streaming apps such as those from satellite services (DirecTV) and premium cable channels (HBO Go) are perfectly happy to let you watch their content on your iOS device. Want to project it over AirPlay or via a cable attached to your TV? Oh no. You can watch this stuff on your TV. You can watch it on your computer. You can watch it on your iOS device. But try to project it from one device to another, and you’ve enraged the “we’re more interested in our arcane license agreements than customer convenience” gods. UnrestrictPremium2 is designed to block those “oh, no you don’t” flags that prevent this kind of convenience. It doesn’t always work, because the media conglomerates routinely update their apps to lock down their content. But when it does work, it’s wonderful.
Jailbreaks for all?
In August 2010 I considered the pros and cons of jailbreaking your iPhone, and my feelings on the subject have changed little in two and a half years. As I’ve described, doing it has clear benefits for me. But clearly this is edge-case use, and jailbreaking isn’t for everyone. When you jailbreak your iOS device, you void your Apple warranty, you have to be more careful about the apps you install, and you risk a less stable device.
My most fervent hope is that iOS (and media license agreements) will evolve to the point where I find jailbreaking entirely unnecessary. Until that time comes, however, I'm a jailbreaker.
Important update: As I write this, DisplayOut is incompatible with iOS 6.1. If your device is currently jailbroken under an earlier version of iOS and you need DisplayOut, wait to update your device.