Apple keeps your phone from doing lots of different things.
Starting our fourth decade: Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously online for 30 years


iPhone's 'jail' can be a big limitation

June 23, 2013

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2013, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2013, The Post-Standard

In polite company, iPhone owners talk about it in hushed tones, as if it were illegal or disreputable.

The name doesn't help. "Jailbreaking" sounds like something you'd do only if you were trying to free Nelson Mandela from an unruly mob.

But it's just a way to change how your iPhone works. It takes only a few minutes and it's legal.

You're excused if you feel like dozing. Why would you ever want to change the way your iPhone works?

Because Apple keeps your phone from doing lots of different things. If you want your phone to do any of them, you have a choice: stop wanting your phone to do them or jailbreak the phone.

Let's look at the problem in more detail.

Apple is unusual, if that's the right way to say it, in how it tries to influence its customers. When you buy an Apple product, Apple expects to have a lasting relationship with you -- not just a business relationship, but membership in an exclusive owners club. A buyers club, maybe.

Normally, such a club provides discounts and services. Sam's Club gives you low prices, for example.

But Apple's relationship with its customers is upside down. As the owner of an Apple product, you are expected to pay more and get less.

Don't assume that I am bashing Apple. I'm being straight with you. When you choose to own an Apple product, you pay more -- everyone knows that, and many of you are willing to pay that extra cost -- but you're also required to accept the penalties. They include absolute, severe limits on what you can do with your Apple device.

Especially your iPhone. Apple won't let you buy apps, for example, from anyone other than Apple. Not even from the app developer who made the app.

(Try that again: Not even from the app developer who made the app. Apple prevents me from selling an iPhone app I made directly to the end user. I have to give that app to Apple so it can be sold at Apple's App Store, where Apple takes a 30 percent cut before handing over the rest of the profits to me.)

Is this right? You tell me. But here's the best part: Apple doesn't physically block me from selling directly to users. It's more clever than that. It simply blocks the iPhone (and the iPad, too, of course) from running any app that doesn't have Apple's controls built in. The iPhone is designed that way. It comes off the Chinese assembly line with a built-in lock.

It's a bit like Ford selling you a car that looks like any other car -- or maybe looks better and runs better than any other car -- but when you try to gas up at Hess or Mobil, you find your new Ford will only work with Ford-brand gasoline. You'd scream bloody murder, as the Brits say.

Something happens to most Apple customers when they sign up for the duration. They look the other way. They don't notice the lock on their iPhone or their iPad.

But some notice it indeed. An estimated 25 million iPhone owners have taken the next step, jailbreaking. Next week, I'll describe what's in it for you if you want to do the same thing.