Jailbreak - How Is It Done?
If you've been an iPhone user for a while, you may well have heard the term 'jailbreak' or 'jailbreaking'. What it means is opening up the iPhone to a greater level of file system access than Apple currently permits on a 'stock' (out of the box) iPhone. This allows you to install applications that extend the capabilities of the iPhone - apps that are not currently allowed past Apple's restrictions in the App Store.
A jailbreak is generally done by using one of various (free to download) applications that are designed to make the process quick and easy. In the 'old school' days of iPhone firmwares 1.x some of the processes involved in jailbreak could get a little tricky (especially for not very tech-savvy users) - but by now most are extremely simple and painless to use, and the process itself can often take under a minute to complete.
The jailbreak process can vary quite a lot between different iPhone models and firmware (the iPhone operating system) versions. If you are considering a jailbreak, you'll need to do a little research and remember to look for info specific to your model (3GS, 3G, 2G) and your firmware version. If you're unsure what firmware version you have go to Settings > General > About - and look at the 'Version' entry. That's your firmware or OS level - mine is currently 3.1.2.
Two of the leading current jailbreaks (as at February 2010) are blackra1n and the Dev Team. For advice and step-by-step tutorials look to iPhone forum sites and blogs for help.
What Are the Risks of Jailbreak?
Number 1, Apple says you void your warranty by jailbreaking. Apple has to be able to identify that your iPhone is in fact jailbroken in order for this to have any impact - and most jailbreakers are able to run a normal Restore operation on their iPhone prior to taking it to an Apple store (or sending it off to Apple) for repair. I've not heard of a single case of a restored iPhone being picked out as jailbroken and turned away though.
The fact that jailbreak allows for access to system level areas of the iPhone file system, inherently opens up a greater possibility of something going astray on the iPhone, from small stability issues to potentially serious issues. The deeper level of access to the file system also potentially makes the iPhone more vulnerable from a security standpoint - viruses and malware can potentially do more harm than on a stock iPhone.
I've been jailbreaking my iPhone (all three generations) since back in the 1.x days. I have never ended up with a 'bricked' (unusable / unrecoverable) iPhone, have never hit an issue that wasn't at the very worst fixable via a quick Restore of the iPhone through iTunes.
I have occasionally had some crashes or general instability caused by jailbreak (or individual jailbreak apps) - but then again, I can say the same about periods during which I ran the iPhone un-jailbroken - as in, even running ti stock I have experienced some instability and crashed when Apple hasn't got all their firmware ducks in a row (anyone recall how buggy OS 2.0 was at launch of it?).
The vast majority of the time my jailbroken iPhones have run beautifully. The iPhone 3GS in particular does not miss a beat while jailbroken. It is just as fast, every bit as stable, and gets to really stretch its legs and show its real capabilities when jailbroken. Just as one example of what I mean by that, it handles multitasking like a champion, never breaks a sweat.
My experience is far from unique by the way. I know lots of iPhone jailbreak veterans at iPhone forum sites who have very similar histories to mine with jailbreak.
It helps to be a little tech-savvy of course if you want to jailbreak, but I also know many 'novice' level users who are very happy jailbreakers.
Here's a list I put together of some of the top reasons that jailbreaking is worthwhile: lunch.com/t/w59
I'd love to hear what other 'Lunchers' think of jailbreak and what your experiences are.