iPad and the Meaning of Jailbreaking

With the arrival of the iPad, I have been asked, several times now: Do the new features in the iPad — such as external keyboard support and an iPad version of iWork — eliminate, or at least reduce, the reasons to jailbreak iPhone OS devices?

Not at all.

The major reason to consider jailbreaking has been, and continues to be: the closed nature of the iPhone OS. Nothing much has changed here. Most especially, I am referring to the censorship Apple exercises in its App Store. Apple COO Tim Cook defended the App Store approval process recently, stating “We created the approval process to really make sure that it protected consumer privacy, to safeguard children from inappropriate content, and to avoid apps that degrade the core experience of the phone.” This is disingenuous at best — especially the last phrase.

Mr. Cook makes it sound as if Apple’s primary concern is the consumer. Apple is acting as a benevolent parent. However, this is just political rhetoric. In fact, Apple’s approval process exists primarily to benefit Apple. Apple keeps a tight control over apps that would open up access to the OS in any way, or reduce Apple’s ability to restrict what third-party hardware is permitted to work with iPhone OS devices, or might otherwise irritate Apple for any conceivable reason. It’s all about control and profitability. How it aids consumers is hardly the point.

To make this case more clearly, here is a list of just a few of the worthwhile or desirable things you cannot do on a standard iPhone — only because Apple doesn’t allow you to do so. In almost all cases, these are things you could do if you jailbroke your iPhone. [I have written about this topic numerous times, as evident from the links below, as well as via more general articles such as The iPhone: Everything in Your Pocket (Except a Mac).]:

• You can’t access iPhone OS files that are helpful to solve troubleshooting problems (as I describe in Bugs & Fixes: Solving ‘circular loop’ problems in iPhone apps). This is true even though you can easily access the comparable files in Mac OS X.

More generally, there is no Finder-like app to access the contents of the iPhone. Although less critical to the average user, there is similarly no Terminal app. The bottom line is that Apple keeps the iPhone OS almost completely off-limits to users.

• You can’t copy files to or from an iPhone over a USB connection (except in a few restricted cases) — other than for photos or via iTunes syncing. I describe this more in Apple Requires DigiDNA to Modify iPhone App and USB Feature Returns to FileApp.

• You can’t use Bluetooth except for headsets and peer-to-peer games (as I note in Will a Tablet Replace My MacBook?). Most notably, you cannot use Bluetooth for file transfers, even though this is a well-supported option in Mac OS X for other mobile phones.

With the iPad, Apple says you can use its Bluetooth keyboard, but I strongly suspect that this freedom will not be extended to include third-party keyboards (or Apple would have said so).

You can’t print to Bluetooth printers such as the Polaroid PoGo (as I detail in Print That, iPhone!). Actually, printing from the iPhone is very limited in general.

• In the U.S., you still can’t enable Internet tethering. AT&T remains mute on when (or even if, at this point) tethering will ever be enabled.

• You can’t mirror the iPhone display on a Mac or any projector system (except in very limited ways — such as to show a video or a photo slideshow or, with the iPad, a Keynote presentation). I covered this matter more in An iPhone Killer App May Be Left to Die.

• You can’t mount an iPhone as an external drive on your Mac — either via USB or wirelessly — even though you can mount an iPod nano or classic.

• You can’t have apps that attempt to add any feature that Apple has deliberately omitted from the OS, such as folders on the Home screen or multitasking.

• You can’t have apps with sexual content, beyond the relatively tame ones that survived Apple’s approval gauntlet (as I detail more in Bikinis and the App Store Approval Process). Apple allows R-rated movies on the iPhone, including those that display a level of nudity prohibited in apps. Considering that the iPhone supports parental controls, it is not clear to me why Apple has to be so restrictive.

• Apple has blocked, either temporarily or permanently, an assortment of apps based on bizarre claims of copyright infringement (as I covered in Apple’s App Store Rejections). As I know from personal experience (and which I may write more about at a later time), even mentioning the word “jailbreaking” in an app can lead to approval problems.

Again, none of the limitations in the above list are inherently necessary. In most cases, you can have these features by jailbreaking your iPhone. That’s why many people continue to jailbreak their devices — despite the continuing hassles in doing so (as I covered in iPhone Jailbreaking: The Landscape Shifts Again). The arrival of the iPad will not change this. It may be that Apple can successfully block attempts to jailbreak the iPad. But I am certain that people intend to give it a try.

As Matt Deatherage put it, in describing the App Store approval process: “No one wants to use the word censorship because it’s ugly. It’s also correct. Can you imagine a market dominated by a single bookseller that demanded to read and review all books before they went on sale? The very concept is ridiculous.”

So, no. The iPad does not change the jailbreak equation. My goal here, however, is not to encourage jailbreaking. Rather it is to encourage Apple to eliminate the reasons for jailbreaking — to open up the iPhone OS, to allow more third-party solutions to work with the iPhone OS, and to end unnecessary censorship. Will Apple ever do this? Never say never, but I am pessimistic about Apple’s plans in this regard.

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2 Responses to iPad and the Meaning of Jailbreaking

  1. Pingback: Apple’s Handcuffed Devices « Slanted Viewpoint

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