Jail Breaking: Yes or No?

by Dan Forster - , Last Updated on October 6, 2014, How To Guides

Got yourself an iPhone? If you have you might have  heard of jail breaking, or even thought about trying it for yourself. Today we’re here to talk all about jail breaking so you can decide for yourself whether or not this is going to be for you. So before you make any hasty decisions, read on to find out the pros and cons of jail breaking your iPhone.

What is Jail Breaking?

To understand jail breaking, first you need to understand the term DRM. Many electronics companies (not just mobile manufacturers) use DRM (which stands for  Digital Rights Management). This is a software that limits what can be done with a device by allowing only certain kinds of software to run on a device. Jail breaking is basically over riding the DRM on a device so that it can run more kinds of programmes.

That explanation may be a little complicated. So the best way to think of jail breaking is that Apple have locked down your computer so you can only use the internet and word processing. If you want to play games, you’ll need to unlock your computer. Got it? That’s what jail breaking essentially is. You are unlocking your phone so that you can do more stuff with it.

Are We Talking Only About iPhones Here?

Jail breaking is traditionally associated with iPhones (and now iPads as well) because Apple are notoriously strict about which programmes iPhones can and cannot run. One of the complaints that many people have about using iOS is that it’s just not as customisable as Android, for example. In general jail breaking refers only to Apple devices.

The process of jail breaking an Android phone is known as rooting, and is less popular than jail breaking, mostly because Android is already fairly open and allows many more programmes to run on a device.

Why Would I Want to Jail Break My Phone?

So why would someone want to jail break their iPhone? The basic reason is because you want to run more programmes. If you want to download apps that don’t come from the Apple App Store, for example, you’ll need to jail break. Given how strict Apple are about which apps are allowed to be sold through the App Store this is a big enough reason to persuade many people to jail break their device.

Another reason that many people choose to jail break their iPhone is because it gives you more customisation options. With a jail broken phone you are free to add different icons and wallpapers to your home screen, and even change things such as how many icons appear on your task bar at any given time.

There are more technical reasons too though. A jail broken phone can be used as WiFi hotspot to connect your laptop to the internet, a process known as tethering. And in some cases, where your iPhone is locked to one operator, jail breaking can allow you to switch to other operators simply by getting a new SIM card.

When it comes down to it the advantage of a jail broken iPhone is that you simply have more options, and that’s what appeals to most people about the process.

Why Should I NOT Jail Break My Phone?

There are, however, a few good reasons not to jail break your phone. The first of these is that jail breaking your iPhone will void your Apple warranty. Should anything go wrong, Apple will not replace or repair your phone.

Then there’s the issue of malware, or viruses. By jail breaking your phone you’re eliminating many of the security settings that Apple has put onto your device. Not only that, but downloading apps from sources other than the App Store means that those apps haven’t been carefully vetted. The combination of these two things means that your phone will be more likely to become infected with a virus. Having said that though, there have been very few reports of this actually happening.

Jail breaking is also somewhat of a repeated process as well. When Apple release iOS updates, those updates will (usually) erase the jail breaking process as well as deleting all unauthorised apps, meaning that you’ll need to go through the whole thing all over again.

Finally, there’s always the chance that everything can go wrong. Jail breaking isn’t extremely complicated, but it does require a little technical know-how. By either getting the process wrong or downloading a bad unauthorised app, you might end up with a phone that doesn’t work at all.

Is Jail Breaking Legal?

There have been efforts (mostly instigated by Apple themselves) to make jail breaking illegal in many countries. Currently in the UK jail breaking your iPhone is not illegal. Under the Copyright and Related Rights Regulations 2003 it is legal to erase DRM software for operation purposes, though not for infringing copyrights. That basically means that it’s legal to jail break to make your phone work better, but not so that you can copy or download things that belong to someone else. However, as of yet this law has not been tried in a court.

Should You Do It?

The question of whether or not to jail break your iPhone is really up to you. There are benefits, but there are also risks, and you’ll need to weigh up those things. For the average user jail breaking usually doesn’t make any sense, since you’ll be able to get pretty much anything you require from Apple’s App Store. More advanced users may want more options though.

Jail breaking takes just a few minutes, and there are plenty of online guides that will walk you through the process. But in the end, you’re the one taking the risk. You might get a great phone that you can customise as you want and play lots of cool games. You might end up with a non functional brick that cost you several hundred pounds. The decision is yours, but you should certainly consider the options very carefully.