When jailbreaking first began on the iPhone, allowing users to install third-party applications, there were definitive advantages for going through with the somewhat tedious procedure, which is why some sources claim that at least ten percent of iPhone owners had done the deed. We did it, unlocked our iPhone, and have been happy using our 2G iPhone on T-Mobile’s network since the first unlocking apps were available in 2007. To this day, we still use applications only available from Cydia to compliment what we can obtain through the AppStore, because many apps available from Cydia have features restricted by Apple (tethering apps, background apps, etc).
Slowly, however, the need to jailbreak has dwindled, despite the fact that the process for doing so has gotten easier and easier. The AppStore’s selection of applications, compounded with Apple’s own improvements in the iPhone’s OS, have been effective in combating the jeailbreaking scene; many reasons to jailbreak have been nullified, such as the official inclusion of copy/paste, turn-by-turn directions in upcoming GPS applications, (eventual) AT&T support for tethering and MMS, and the sheer size of apps available. In other words, there are only a handful of reasons left to jailbreak and run unsigned Apple code, and every one of these reasons goes back to restrictions imposed upon developers by Apple. Interestingly, the fact that Apple didn’t crush the jailbreaking scene by somehow banning jailbroken or unlocked phones from accessing the AppStore/iTunes, and instead paving ahead with software improvements, was a much more effective solution to their perceived “problem”.
Our recent revisions of our must-have app list for the iPhone should be some indication of jailbreaking usefulness. All of the apps we recommend from Cydia clearly do things that Apple, or AT&T, would not be pleased with, though definitely make power-users happy. There’s the ability to selectively give applications the opportunity to run as a background process, a way to store app icons in folders so as to keep icon sprawl on the Springboard to a minimum, the requisite tethering app, a quick and efficient way to toggle phone features on/off, and finally an app to customize the look of one’s device by skinning the UI. Arguably, all of these things should be allowable in the AppStore, though clearly they’re not because they can alter the “feel” of the iPhone experience in a way that may be negative if used improperly. (For example, background apps can make the iPhone sluggish, poor UI skins may be ugly, etc.) In other words, Apple would rather guarantee a common experience, rather than give people a potentially bad user experience, so as to make more sales.
With less people needing to jailbreak, there’s obviously less need for multiple distribution centers for unsigned apps (if there ever was one). So it’s no surprise that Installer.app is now dead, with Cydia remaining king of unofficial app repositories. Maybe Installer.app and Cydia haven’t exactly become resources for the truly hardcore, but in many ways, Cydia remains the only source for software that Apple will likely never allow. That’s despite the fluff still available on Cydia, but sifting through it, there’s enough hardcore apps left that we’re still glad jailbreaking is around, and why we look forward to a jailbreaking method for the iPhone 3G S soon.
In the meantime, we expect Apple to continue adding features to the iPhone OS, and some day in the future, perhaps we’ll finally see better icon management on the Springboard, interface customizations, and a quicker method for toggling features on/off without having to dig through Settings. And when that comes to pass (iPhone OS 4.0?), the need to jailbreak will be even slimmer. It may not kill the jailbreaking scene entirely (heck, retro-gamers still need their emulators), but with less reasons to jailbreak, less developers will be interested in making jailbreaking a possibility, and that means that further jailbreaking improvements will move along much slower.
In the end, the lesson to developers is clear: it’s not about keeping a device from being hacked, its about lessening the reasons to hack a device in the first place.