Jailbreak The iPad: What It Means And Why People Do It

Jailbreaking the iPad (and iPhone) has been a hot topic for quite a long time.  It started with the iPhone and has since applied to the iPad as well.  But what is “jailbreaking” and why would you want to or not want to do this with your iPad?  This post will be useful if you want to understand what all of the hype is around jailbreaking and it helps you decide if you want to pursue it.

What It Means To Jailbreak

Jailbreaking is a term that quite literally means “breaking out of jail“.  Jail in this sense is the authorized Apple code that runs multiple devices such as the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch.  Jailbreaking is a process that allows you to run any software code (non-restrictive and non-authorized) on your Apple Device.

Once the device has been Jailbroken, you can then extend its capabilities beyond what Apple originally intended.  You can download extensions, themes, and software that is not available in the App Store.

iPad Jailbreak

A Brief History

Jailbreaking actually began back in 2007 (with the release of the first iPhone) and was meant to provide a way to use custom ringtones.  This was before Apple had ringtone creation available in iTunes (which becomes important further on in this article).

For some time, multiple jailbreaking methods were discovered and used. Meanwhile, the people creating the jailbreaking methods (hackers) and the Apple developers were trying to leapfrog each other and stop jailbreaking from happening.

Eventually, a full fledged tool called PwnageTool was released that provided a graphical user interface and was the standard tool used to jailbreak an iPhone.  Since then, multiple tools have been released to keep up with the iPhone software versions and the most recent tool by Wii Homebrew called “Spirit” allows you to jailbreak the current iPad (both the WiFi and the 3G).

Why People Jailbreak

People Jailbreak their devices for many reasons.  One reason is to simply use third-party software apps that are not available in the App Store.  Another reason people jailbreak their (iPhones) in particular is to be able to use the device on a non-AT&T network.  Some people do not have AT&T service and some just don’t like AT&T.  A third reason people jailbreak is to increase the functionality of the device, such as tethering.  Tethering allows you to use your iPhone/iPad as a “modem” for your laptop and surf the Internet.

Beyond the more traditional reasons people jailbreak, there are those that just want to experiment with non-authorized software, and in general not feel locked down by Apple.

Issues With Jailbreaking

There are many issues surrounding jailbreaking.  One such issue is the question of legality.  Currently, there are no legal issues with jailbreaking your device.  There was a part of the 2009 Digital Millennium Copyright Act ruling which permitted jailbreaking to allow iPhone users to use their phones with apps not available in the iTunes App store.  Apple opposed this ruling and stated that they feel jailbreaking is a violation of copyright.  No further decision has been made in regards to this but there is an expected ruling later this year (2010) and if it is deemed illegal then it could bring an end to the practice for those that want to avoid fines, etc.

Beyond the legality of Jailbreaking another issue is the fact that it can render your device unusable if, for example, you upgrade to the latest Apple software update and that update includes code that looks for jailbroken devices and renders them unusable (bricked).

A third issue is the risk of stability.  Anytime you use applications or code that were not originally intented for the iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch then you risk the fact that it could introduce errors, crashing, or other behavior that can cause headaches.

The Usefullness Of Jailbreaking

Jailbreaking can be valuable as well as questionable.  When people experiment then they often find out way to do things which show up in later versions of the software.  For example, the custom ringtones which were the original reason for jailbreaking all of the sudden shows up in as a feature in a later release of the iPhone software.

User experimentation has for a long time been a great way for developers and manufacturers to learn about their own devices.  It’s not totally unthinkable to imagine that Apple has not pursued this more aggressively because it actually helps more than harms.

A third reason people cite jailbreaking as useful is because they download apps and test them before buying them – kind of like a “try-before-you-buy” situation.  While some *will* buy the actual apps, there are plenty of people that won’t. In this situation, there are two sides to the coin. On the one hand you have people that won’t ever buy the app and thus the developers make no money for their hard work (and it is hard work). On the other hand, if someone really likes an app they are trying out, they might tell A LOT of people and it could have a viral effect.

My Personal Take on Jailbreaking

For me, I choose not to jailbreak my devices simply because I rely on them to do my work and do not necessarily want to deal with a crashed device right when I’m typing up an important post (like this one).  I love seeing what others create with jailbreaking and I personally feel that it’s at your own risk but until I am able to have multiple devices (like two iPads) then I don’t choose to jailbreak them.

How about you? What are your thoughts on Jailbreaking? Do you think it’s valuable? What will you do if it is deemed illegal?

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