Jailbreaking, iOS 5 and Me

iOS 5 is out. I’ve updated our iPad, iPad 2, and iPhone 4 to run the new iOS version. Plus, I purchased an iPhone 4S that comes with iOS 5 preinstalled. As installing iOS 5 wipes out any prior jailbreaks, this means I lost the jailbreak on all my updated iOS devices.

This, in turn, leads to the obvious question: Should I jailbreak any or all of my devices running iOS 5?

At least for the moment, the current limitations of jailbreaking have largely determined the answer for me. You can not jailbreak the iPhone 4S or the iPad 2 running iOS 5. The jailbreak for my remaining iOS 5 devices is tethered — which means I would have to connect the device to a Mac whenever I power down and reboot the device. In the past, I have resisted installing this type of jailbreak, not wanting to have to deal with such an inconvenience.

But let’s ignore these restrictions. Suppose I could jailbreak all of my iOS 5 devices with a minimum of hassle. Should I do it? I’m not asking this in the ethical or political sense. That’s a different kettle of fish that I intend to cover today. Rather, I am asking a more personal question. I have previously jailbroken nearly every iOS device I have owned. Why? Because, as I have written on numerous occasions (such as this posting), I have found it worthwhile to do so. But what about now? Is it still worth even a minimum of trouble to jailbreak? Or has iOS 5 changed the equation in such a way that I would rather not bother at all?

My answer is: With the release of iOS 5, I am ready to abandon jailbreaking. Well, almost.

This is because iOS 5 has managed to eliminate almost every reason I previously had for jailbreaking. People jailbreak their iOS devices for a variety of different purposes. There’s a wealth of jailbreak apps out there. While each app has its champions, I have ignored all but a select few of them.

There have been, at most, a half-dozen features that have led me to consider jailbreaking. Apple’s iOS 5 offers an alternative for all but two of those features (and only one of those two really matters).

I give kudos to Apple for this. Apple has shown a willingness to respond to what drove many users to jailbreak their devices, yet still maintain the company’s limits in regard to what they allow on an iOS device. It’s a difficult balancing act, and Apple is handling it well.

What exactly has iOS 5 delivered that has caused me to change my tune?

Well, there’s Notification Center, Wi-Fi syncing and AirPlay mirroring. I have previously used jailbreak apps to accomplish these tasks. No more. I should also mention internet tethering. You’ve been able to do this “legally” on an iPhone prior to iOS 5. However, for me, doing so would mean giving up my AT&T unlimited data plan — something I do not want to do. As such, I considered using a jailbreak app to accomplish this tethering. However, the truth is that I have almost never been in a situation where I wanted to use this feature. So I can easily live without it. Again, this means no need for a jailbreak.

What remains for a jailbreak to accomplish for me? Two things.

The first is Home button disabling via IncarcerApp. This app puts an iOS device in a kiosk-mode. Apple uses it in their Stores for the iPads that sit on their product display tables. It’s also useful when sharing an iOS device with a young child. It means you can let a child play with a given app without worrying that they will press the Home button to exit the app and begin an “exploration” of the rest of your device.

So far, Apple prohibits any such feature on an iOS device. This represents my quintessential annoyance with Apple’s iOS policies. Here is a feature that is clearly helpful (even Apple uses it), seems easy to implement and has worked perfectly in my use. Yet, because of Apple’s restrictions on what can and can’t go in the App Store, this jailbreak-only app remains unavailable to the vast majority of iOS users. That’s how Apple rolls. Maybe someday, Apple will offer this feature, as they finally did with mirroring. We can hope.

On the other hand, I personally have had very little “real world” use for the app. I would certainly not bother to jailbreak an iOS device just to get this feature.

This leaves only one remaining reason for me to jailbreak. And it’s a big one. So big, that I am still debating jailbreaking my devices just so I can have the feature. That feature is root access to the iOS. With a jailbreak, even without adding any additional software, you have access to the entire contents of an iOS device: System folder, Library folders, UNIX directories and everything else. Connect a jailbroken device to a OS X app such as PhoneView and the entire iOS opens up to you. As I have covered before, this allows for troubleshooting and “power user” tricks that you could not otherwise do.

Install the jailbreak app iFile on your drive and you have root access right on the iOS device itself, via an easy to navigate Finder-like interface.

All Mac users have root access. The Mac has survived quite well despite openly offering this power. I am confident the iPhone and iPad would survive just as well. If it made Apple feel better, they could restrict this access to an “advanced” mode, one that most users would almost certainly ignore. As it stands now, iOS devices are like cars that have the hood locked so that only dealers can see and modify what’s underneath.

I understand that most people are content never to peer into the System folder on an iOS device or look under the hood of a car. I am not one of those people. For me, and for those who share my interest, jailbreaking remains the only solution. If Apple provided some form of root access to iOS devices, I would without a doubt be ready to bid adieu to jailbreaking.

Even so, iOS 5 is such a giant leap forward that, for the first time, I can imagine giving up on jailbreaking even if it meant a loss of root access. In fact, that’s what I am doing now. I wound up jailbreaking my original iPad, just to test things out. However, my iPad 2 and both iPhones remain unmodified. So far, things have been going well. Very well.

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1 Response to Jailbreaking, iOS 5 and Me

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