Is there a future for jailbreak?

There was a time when power users simply had to jailbreak their iPhone as a matter of necessity. If you wanted to get any serious work done with iOS, you had to jailbreak. If you wanted apps, if you wanted copy and paste, if you wanted multitasking, if you wanted proper notifications and Lock screen info, if you wanted Wi-Fi sync, if you wanted any number of features users of other platforms took for granted, you had to jailbreak.

But iOS has evolved. Year after year, Apple has added features, sometimes copied them directly from jailbreak. And each time, the functionality gap closes, the reasons to jailbreak become fewer, and the number of users who jailbreak become fewer along with it.

iOS 5 was the turning point for many. Could iOS 6 be the final straw? Could we be approaching a future where Jailbreak has little or no legitimate place in most iPhone and iPad users lives?

The good of the many vs the good of the few -- or the you

User experience matters when it comes to mobile experience

Almost all the big ticket innovations that Apple has brought to iOS, jailbreak brought first. Prior to iOS 5, to pick but one recent example, if you wanted real, unobtrusive, notifications, you had to jailbreak and install apps like IntelliscreenX and LockInfo. MobileNotifier had a strong influence on the way that Notification Center handles notifications today.

With iOS 5 Apple introduced Notification Center. And they did them in a way that catered to the mainstream. There are no difficult settings to weed through or overwhelming menus and options like you find in LockInfo or IntelliscreenX. Is Notification Center perfect? Certainly not. But it's easy. And that's what matters to the majority of consumers.

IntelliscreenX and LockInfo do far more, far better than Notification Center, but to many former jailbreakers, Notification Center does enough, good enough, that they'll stop jailbreaking and just make do.

Not everyone, but a significant number of people.

Innovation at the speed of freedom

Innovation and jailbreak for iPhone and iPad

Apple only releases one new version of iOS a year (or 16 months last year). While they have interim updates in between, those are adding increasingly fewer new features, and never add major, system-level changes. Jailbreak, by contrast, never stops. New tweaks and new utilities are always being developed and released.

That means jailbreak is typically faster at discovering and delivering new features. While the masses may not know they need a feature or function until Apple gives it to them, power users typically want it before Apple can or is willing to give it to them. To keep to the same example, jailbreak users had LockInfo and IntelliscreenX and Mobile Notifier long before Notification Center shipped.

Whether this year will bring with it a newly designed Home screen or other major new feature, odds are it really won't be that ground breaking to jailbreak users.

In this aspect, jailbreak will continue to be a breeding ground for many developers that want to push the limits of what the iPhone and iPad are capable of. They'll bring the future to us today.

But again, the amount of users who need a cutting edge level of functionality is less now than it used to be. Apple has taken care of the low hanging fruit and for the most part, only niche-needs remain to be filled. That means less people will go through the trouble to jailbreak because it's increasingly not worth it for them. Good enough is good enough and perfect isn't worth the trouble it takes to get it.

The rejection objection

Rejected apps find a home in Cydia

Many developers that find themselves rejected by Apple for one reason or another have used Cydia, the jailbreak app store, as a way to distribute their apps. Whether Apple rejected an app because they manipulated the iOS file system, or because it duplicated -- and sometimes improved! -- the functionality of a built in app, or because it hooked into and changed a part of the system Apple simply doesn't want changed, Cydia (or another jailbreak app store) remains the only way to get certain apps.

However, while there are apps that Apple will never let onto the App Store under current policies, Apple is rejecting less apps than they used to. Often there will be some neutered version of an app that does something similar, and unless a user really needs a specific prohibited feature, they'll increasingly suck it up and make do with the App Store. Again, good enough.

Themes and toggles and tweaks, oh my


Even though Apple adds more and more native functionality with each major revision of iOS, there will always be a niche group of advanced users that want to customize and fine tune their experience beyond what Apple allows. This holds true for rooting and homebrew communities on other, more "open" platforms as well. For some of us, there's just never enough. We'll customize and flash down to the ROM level if we can.

For the iPhone and iPad, whether it's a new look for the Home screen and icons, fast access to Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or other Settings, or system extensions for Notification Center, folders, Siri, or more, there's almost no chance Apple can will meet these needs, especially not any time soon.

These jailbreakers are still jailbreaking, and likely will for a longtime to come.

Illegitimate interests


While we have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to app theft here on iMore, we simply can't talk jailbreak without facing the reality that some segment of the user base jailbreaks simply to steal apps. Those are the users that will probably continue to jailbreak regardless of how much functionality Apple adds. They could care less. It doesn't matter how nice Starbucks is inside if all someone wants to do is steal coffee.

It's a sad reality but one that exists on almost every platforms, mobile or otherwise.

Those who jailbreak to steal aren't the ones that keep Cydia going. If they're stealing App Store apps, they're most likely not paying for jailbreak apps. The users who support jailbreak open their wallets to support the jailbreak community -- they like paying for apps and themes and tweaks because they know that's how they'll get more of them. Same for app store apps (and coffee!)

Some users will continue to jailbreak to steal apps, but if that's ever the only reason left to jailbreak, the community would likely stop looking for exploits, creating tools, and making great jailbreak software. It's a dead end.

(Considering Cydia is still chugging along, arguably better than ever, it's a good sign that there are still many users out there who jailbreak for legitimate reasons.)

A tale of two systems

iPhone 4S siri hero

As iOS becomes more refined and functional, certain users who used to jailbreak find it no longer worth their effort, and they either settle into, or settle for, stock. However, Apple will never be able to please everyone. In fact, pleasing everyone is the opposite of Apple's philosophy. Apple will continue to make the iPhone that Tim Cook and Jony Ive and Phil Schiller and Scott Forstall want to own and use. That will suit the mainstream just fine, but it will continue to leave many other users wanting more or different.

There may be less casual jailbreakers now than there were before, and there may be less reason for average users to jailbreak now than before. Good enough may be good enough for many.

But not for everyone, and not for those for whom better or perfect is a very personal, sometimes changing target.

iOS may make more and more users happy, but jailbreak will remain, giving advanced levels of control and customization, and allowing users to "beta test" the future. The users that will be interested in doing that are the tinkerers, hackers, and mobile enthusiasts. These are the users that see a new piece of tech and have to have it or want to find a way to get their current device to duplicate another platform's functionality before Apple decides they can have it. While this will always be the case for some, it isn't the case for many.

You can never predict the future. Apple or the carriers could crack down on something that drives more users to jailbreak again. A breakthrough new feature could appear on a competing platform and jailbreak could once again offer it well in advance of Apple. But it will never be the same as the heady days when you had to jailbreak just to run apps, or just to use an iPhone outside the U.S.

Jailbreak under iOS 5 is not what it was under iOS 4 and the same will most likely hold true with every iteration of iOS to come. As more features are added and the needs of many would-be jailbreakers are met, the numbers will continue to dwindle and users that once swore by jailbreak will find themselves weighing out whether or not jailbreak holds value for them anymore. At some point, iOS will cross the threshold of being good enough for some jailbreakers to being good enough for many.

And that's okay. Because the jailbreakers who are left will be just as passionate and just as needy as always. There may be less as a percentage of the total user base, but those who remain, who still want jailbreak, will really want it. They'll need it.

And that -- sense of shared purpose more than any number of people -- is what makes a community.

Allyson Kazmucha

iMore senior editor from 2011 to 2015.

  • I jailbroke my iPad 2, and there wasn't anything there I wanted, so I went back to stock.
  • Until the federal gov steps in and stops AT&T and others from double-dipping with services such as tethering, I will always have a need for jailbreaking. MyWi is a definite necessity. SBsettings is also another good reason why I jailbreak.
  • Will always jailbreak fake location 3 g unrestricter miwi 5 colum 5 row toggles hide apps clear all those dumb email address remembered there are more but imbon the train
  • I think you missed something that is a reason why I don't bother with it much these days. No timely jailbreaks. Sure, you shouldn't upgrade but sometimes you have no choice if you need to restore or swap phones.
  • That's what happened to me. Screwed up my phone fiddling with the filesystem, so had to restore to 5.1. I know it was my fault. Just saying I didn't update until I had no choice. Now I'm stuck until they jailbreak it again. Sucks. I miss my scrolling dock and blank first page.
  • Not to mention breaking the 12 app folder barrier
  • the new redsn0w update will let u downgrade to 5.0.1
  • Switched to an iPhone from webOS and, while I'm happy with the 4S, I miss the freedom of messing around with themes and the like in my Pre and TouchPad. Now I'm locked in with iOS 5.1 waiting for the option to jailbreak it.
  • The only reason I jailbreak my iDevices is because of the further functionality I could get with jailbreak.
  • If you think there's no reason to jailbreak, you haven't looked hard enough at the options available for your device, that Apple doesn't address. As SOON as I can JB my iPhone 4S on 5.1, done and done.
  • You say we havent looked hard enough, but you also provide no examples. I jailbroke and enjoyed the themes and some minor tweaking, but it didnt offer enough to be worth the hassle.
  • BiteSMS, ActionMenu, SBsettings & FolderEnhancer are all the reason i need to JB at this point. These are all fairly simple tweaks that add a lot more functionality to iOS. Until Apple adopts (@ least) 3 outta 4 of these tweaks..."good enough", will never be good enough! <--IMO
  • What is hard to understand is why Apple has locked down the iPhone's full potential. Most of the cydia tweaks are not stolen or cracked apps but tweaks that allow funtions that the iPhone is and should be capable of doing but Apple refuses to allow. Why is this?
    If Apple would simply unlock or allow these developers to submit their tweaks to the app store then people would probably bess less inclined to jailbreak their phones.
  • I think the entire premise of your article is undermined by the false assumption you make that the number of users who find the need to jailbreak has been in decline with each new iOS version. The best measurement for the popularity of jail breaking is the usage numbers for Cydia, and in every interview I have found including ( Jay Freeman has said the usage numbers have only gone up. Of course you would expect these numbers to go up based on the numbers of new users alone, but you have provided no evidence annecdotal or otherwise that the percentages of users has gone down either. So in the end you have a flawed conclusion based on your own assumptions.
    Apple's adoption of innovations from jailbreak apps does not lead to the irrelevance of jailbreak developers until those developers stop innovating.
  • I am not claiming to "know" that people are not jailbreaking. This is an editorial and my opinion only from my observations over the course of iOS 4 and iOS 5. The feel I get from most users around here and other forums and communities is that a lot of users may stop jailbreaking due to iOS adding missing functionality. And yes, numbers go up as new users pick up iOS devices.
    I don't think I drew a "flawed conclusion" because it is my opinion. Just as you have no evidence to support "why" the numbers of jailbreak users is going up. For all we know, it's people pirating apps. Or they want to install a unicorn tweak that skips around the screen. I simply wanted to get others feedback and provide my opinion on iOS and jailbreak and how they affect eachother as iOS matures. that's all, no more no less.
  • You say that you don't think that you drew a false conclusion because it's your opinion. I disagree. I'm not saying your conclusion is false, what I am saying is that it's possible for our opinion to lead us to false conclusions. That's what logical fallacies are all about, leading to false conclusions.
    I think what you mean is that this is your opinion and you don't care if the conclusion is true or false. However, it is certainly possible for our opinions to lead us to false conclusions.
    Nice article by the way.
  • Sorry, I meant flawed, not false.
    I thought of a good example. Many people think that "If a implies b" then "if b implies a". But that is a flawed way of thinking and thus their opinions lead them to flawed conclusions.
  • You are right that we all have the right to our own opinions, but we are not entitled to our own facts.
    " And each time, the functionality gap closes, the reasons to jailbreak become fewer, and the number of users who jailbreak become fewer along with it."
    The first two sections of this sentence are opinion, but when you make the statement "the number of users who jailbreak become fewer along with it." you are making a statement of fact that you can not support. When you make conclusions based on incorrect data they can't be supported. This does not mean that your conclusions are necessarily right or wrong, just that those opinions were arrived at with faulty information.
  • Absolutely Correct!!!
  • Does jailbreaking cause a headache for phones used in a corporate environment? I would think having unauthorized software on a phone would be a security compromise.
  • I dont see how it would if its your personal phone. If it is a work phone then yes, it would be a bad thing.
  • I have over 10 jailbreak tweaks on my iPhone 4s that I woud not even use my iPhone without. I think Jailbreaking keeps many would-be android users on iOS. That's just how I see things.
  • ^^^ THIS!!! ^^^
  • Exactly, the day Jailbreaks stop is the day I jump ship, or if apple add in these features I will be happy.
    Remove recent apps from switcher.
    Quick reply!!
    Toggles for setting on home screen. (anicons)
    Better lock screen notifications. (intelliscreenx)
    Adblocker. (as mobile sites are riddled now)
    AppStore doesn't close on purchase of app :@ so bloody annoying.
    f.lux support as the blue screen at night hurts your eyes. (over extended periods)
    Speed dial of some sort on lockscreen. (Weespeeddial)
  • I can't wait to see what iOS 6 has in store. Hurry up apple, my developer membership expires in 29 days.
  • The only reason I have a jailbroken phone (an older model) is so I can use it on other carriers when I travel. Roaming is just too damn expensive,
  • very interested in this story and if they could somehow put bitesms as stock then I would never jailbreak.
    But another person had a point the speed of the jailbreak is becoming an issue. 5.0.1 was released for A5 and now we have missed 5.1 and now 5.1.1. They are taking toooooo long and sure they are working for "free" for the most part but its kind of a drag.
    Lets look at this example, supposed 5.1 had better battery performance, and I've been on 5.0.1 untethered since january so I am missing out on this better performance for all that time, why, because the developers are slowlyyyyyy working out the kinks to a jailbreak. crazy. I try to be patient but sometimes its hard.
  • I would prefer for jailbreaks to not be free if they were done faster. I would gladly pay $10 or $15 to get my phone jailbroken if the jailbreak came faster—say 2 or 3 weeks after the release of the update.
  • real bluetooth stack. you know. picture sharing and such. not even file sharing, but that'd be nice too. not having this in the iOS stack really locks the iPhone out of an ecosystem of sharing with other phones. I don't mean to imply that Apple prefer iPhones only talk with iPhones, but that really is what it is. I have a friend who could copy photos, contacts, and other phone-like information between phones directly. iPhone? nope. can't do it without a jailbreak, and an app that replaces the system's bluetooth stack.
  • Phone phreaks were just curious people, who found ways to manipulate the technology they had available. As personal computers became more accessible, the evolution from telephone communications to the net produced hackers; again originally more from a sense of inquisitiveness than malevolence. As technology developed and shrunk, techno-tinkerers stayed current with the leading edge always by asking what more could something do. Corporations do the same everyday and call it innovation, individuals band together as communities and call it ‘phone phreaking’, then ‘hacking’ and now ‘jailbreaking’. The jailbreak community will never cease, just as the inquisitiveness intrinsic in humans will never be fully satiated…at least let’s hope not.
  • I have tried and still use so many jailbreak apps. Going back to stock would just be painful. I agree that the various iOS versions have added more features that were initially not available without a jailbreak, but come on...I gotta have infinifolders, infinidock, SBSettings, Winterboard (multiple themes for all my icons), Unrestrictor, BiteSMS, Activator, Barrel, AppLocker, Multiflow, Hands-Free Control...etc, etc, etc.
  • Ios users continue to rise dramatically. The percentage of jailbreakers may dwindle but in absolute numbers there's still room for Cydia to grow. Personally I don't see the attraction in jailbreaking but I am grateful for those who do - they help to keep Apple on their toes and keep Ios in continuous development. May Apple though please keep making executive decisions and keep inane customizations reasonably at bay, so Ios remain an easy to learn - and use - operating system.
  • jailbroke only because i wanted on/off toggles in notification center and multiple email signatures (i don't like my work sig being used for my personal email).
    having zephyr, fake carrier, being able to arrange icons in any place is just an added bonus! definitely not why i jailbroke, but convenient to have!
  • I could care less about OS 5.1.1, my jailbroke phone on 5.0.1 has more features that 5.1 could ever give me. Pretty much I only jailbreak for the short cuts and extra icons on the screen.
    Now when 6.0 comes out it may be a different story, if it has some cool features.
  • My phone is boring without a jailbreak..
  • Haha one clever person commented with what I was going to say. I think jailbreaking and all of the added functionality keeps many would-be Android users on iOS. I know for a fact that I wouldn't be able to use my iPhone if it wasn't jailbroken. I've experienced all of the operating systems, and I would definitely be on Android if there was no jailbreak availible for iOS. I guess I just like having more control over my device. I like making it more efficient, customized, and pushing it to the limits of what it can handle.
  • The day there is no more jailbreak, is the day I move permanently to Android. There are things I cannot live without (iBlacklist is one of many)
  • Can't understand why Iblacklist (or a comparable version of it) is not available at the app store. I wont't get the iphone 5 until the jailbreak is out, because I can't stand all the spam calls & texts. I'm on the donotcall list but they are non-stop. With iblacklist, I just add the number and over time the problem has been mitigated. It was never an issue with Android, so if I stay with IOS, i'll wait to upgrade from the 4s till the jailbreak is out.
  • I purchased an iphone 4 last year and it would have gone right back to the store in a flash had I not been able to jailbreak it. It was very easy to do using tutorials from youtube. So why did I need a jailbroken iphone??? for one and just one app that apple will not for the life of them allow in the app store if their life depended on it, but yet android and blackberry have no qualms what so ever to allow - a call blocking app. Mine is called iblacklist from cydia and it works 100% of the time flawlessly. I feel extremely strongly about the fact that if I buy an iphone and pay very dearly for the service and I use the iphone as my only phone, I should have the right to block any number including no ID and private numbers from calling and texting my number. I absolutely love my iphone and hope to be able to upgrade in the future, but if I can't jailbreak or Apple will still not allow a call blocking app in the app store, then it will be back to blackberry I go or I will try an android device. This is how strongly I feel about my having the right to this app and how much I despise Apples proprietary hold on their devices.
  • I was tempted to jailbreak just before iOS 3. I never did.
    The walled garden does me good.
  • XBMC
  • I jailbreak because apple holds me too tightly by the balls. I want customization that only jailbreaking can bring to iOS. Blackberry, android both have far more and far simpler methods of gettin things done. Simple example is USB mass storage. I wouldn't use apple without JB.
  • Callbar,bitesms, zephyr, then I may not need to jailbreak....maybe.
  • it doesn't take a genius to figure out jb is the only way to get the full potential of an ipad. please stop posting stupid articles
  • Not stupid at all. Us jailbreakers are the minority. The majority is fine with the way their stock devices work. The article merely points out that Apple can sway those that jailbreak for only a few features. Of course new tweaks and apps will always come about that pushes the potential of iOS, but the reason why many choose iOS is because it simply works and do not need their device to be on the cutting edge. I started on windows mobile where you HAD to tweak and hack just to make the damn thing work properly. Android has always been attractive to that part of my nature (I've owned multiple phones and tablets). But in the end, iOS works beautifully well for what it can do, and jailbreaking adds that extra functionailty I need. I used to have every single customization and tweak installed but nowadays I aim for minimalism. Only apps and tweaks that increase function. It's highly unlikely Apple could provide enough to keep me from jailbreaking but it's not a completely stretch. It's just a shame that exploits are becoming less frequent. I'd pick jailbroken iOS over Android any day, but I would give up stock iOS for Android in a heartbeat.
  • Universal batteries for laptop use are available in different types according to the size of your studio 1749 battery
  • One of the main reasons I jailbreak is to pirate apps. What are you gonna do about it?
  • Rather than promoting jailbreaking, the iOS community should go to the Apple website ( and make a feature request for the following:
    Gatekeeper for iOS would maintain the safety and security of iOS for users that prefer the traditional approach while allowing users that prefer a more customized approach their options. The default option could even remain as "Allow applications downloaded from: App Store." The option to "Allow applications downloaded from: App Store and identified developers" would provide the benefits of the App Store and jailbreaking together.
    Default app selection would be another great option. Allowing users to select which app is their default calendar, mail, maps, SMS/MMS, web browser. etc. client would make Gatekeeper for iOS that much more powerful since any (appropriate) app from any source could be "your" app.
    Automator for iOS would be an excellent feature as well. Allowing users to create their own workflows like OS X would be amazing with APIs for Apple's default apps and key features! The App Store could even add a section for iOS Automator Workflows so those unfamiliar with Automator could still benefit from the feature.
    "Activate Wi-Fi and Deactivate Bluetooth at Location: Home"
    "Deactivate Wi-Fi and Activate Bluetooth upon leaving Location: Home"
    "Check for Software Upgrade at 12:00 a.m. every Saturday"
    "Send all unsent email at 2:00 a.m. Monday - Friday"
    Siri APIs would go a long way toward providing key features that many are now using with jailbreaking.
    Activate Settings (3G, 4G, Airplane Mode, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, etc.)
    Maps and Navigation
    Social Media integration (send Facebook message, send "tweets," etc.)
    "Silent Mode" for Notifications and Services so that you don't have any notifications during a presentation, for example. Airplane Mode isn't sufficient since the user may need Bluetooth or Wi-Fi integration to host the presentation. This feature could be as simple as blocking Notifications when the iPhone is set to "vibrate."
    AirDrop for iOS would be a nice addition as well. The ability to share contacts, documents, notes, photos and reminders over Bluetooth or ad hoc Wi-Fi is a feature many would use if the feature had a good workflow. Although this is possible now, embedded functionality would be nice rather than third party apps from the App Store.
    Safari "Passwords" with iCloud synching
    Furthermore, a few of the original apps could use an update, specifically Notes (new fonts as well as font colors with handwriting recognition and the ability to insert images, etc. (in other words just purchase Evernote), Weather (larger visual summary, altitude, barometric pressure, earthquake alerts, surf conditions, tornado alerts, etc.).
    Remove the YouTube app and replace with a meta "Video Sharing" app that includes Crackle, College Humor, Current, Funny or Die, How To, MetaCafe, Vimeo, Yahoo Videos and YouTube.
    Reinvigorate "Ping" by including apps, books, movies, podcasts, ringtones as well as TV shows. Introduce the "Find Friends" app and feature as part of the Ping feature set. Furthermore, including "Messages" and Photo Stream sharing in Ping would make Ping far more compelling than currently.
  • I like it but what about bloggers is there any way to disable right clicks in a blogspot blog?