I can’t help but get excited when a new version of iOS is released, the slew of new features and shiny upgrades has me on the edge of my seat. Call me easily swayed, by Apple seems to have an endless talent for hooking people like me into their way of thinking.
Unlike most though, during big Cupertino announcements I always have a question in the back of my mind, “How long will it take before somebody jailbreaks this version?”.
What is Jailbreaking?
For the uninitiated, jailbreaking is the act of gaining root access in iOS, which allows, amongst other things any code to be installed and run.
Why is that of any interest? Without a jailbreak iOS can only install from two sources, the app store and through official Apple updates. Jailbreaking changes that.
Once the process of Jailbreaking is over a new (rather brown) icon appears on the home screen. Cydia, in simple terms is a graphical interface for a package manager named “apt” (Linux users will recognise this). This allows you to search and install code from several managed repositories.
So, Why Jailbreak?
Have you ever found yourself frustrated with a feature of iOS? I for example was very pleased when Apple introduced ‘control center’ with iOS 7, it meant that I no longer had to dig through several settings layers to toggle Bluetooth. But I soon became frustrated with the lack of customisation ‘control center’ offered. Why can’t I toggle data? Why can’t I toggle location services? etc.
This is one of many problems solved by opening up iOS. Thanks to talented developers like Ryan Petrich I can add, remove and reorder many more toggles than I thought possible.
Jailbreaking also allows for more ambitious modifications. A ‘tweak’ named Auxo offers to completely replace the functionality of the multi-tasking switcher, offering a slick and unified combination of ‘control center’ and the former at the flick of a thumb.
It’s this freedom to tweak, replace and remove that is the main reason to jailbreak. Not only that but it offers inexperienced developers a chance to develop for iOS without worrying about app store rejection.
Here are some of my favourite tweaks and apps.
SwipeSelection adds the ability to use the standard keyboard as a way to move the text cursor, that seems entirely natural and ‘native’. This video offers a better explanation.
FlipControlCenter as mentioned above allows for customisation of the ‘control center’.
Zeppelin lets you change the carrier text (e.g. O2-UK) on the status bar, you can also remove it or use an image instead.
Activator is a framework to add pretty much any conceivable gesture or button press perform an action. For example I’ve set Activator to launch Spotify when a set of headphones is plugged in.
Springtomize is a huge collection visual tweaks that are too long to list. I use it to hide the ‘slide to unlock’ text on the lock screen, and speed up animations across the OS globally. It’s incredible how much faster iOS feels with this simple change.
f.lux may be familiar to you as it also has desktop versions. Essentially it changes the ‘temperature’ of the screen colour based on the time of day. It really saves your eyes in the dark.
There are many more things you can try, I prefer to remain subtle and keep the Apple’s visual language intact.
What are the Downsides?
Jailbreaking isn’t perfect, there are risks. Opening up the entire filesystem of iOS allows for exploitation, malware is always a slight risk as well as potentially bricking your device. Also some ‘tweaks’ are outdated, ugly or poorly written. Pushing the functionality of code that was never designed to be changed, can have consequences. Another controversial subject is piracy. Unfortunately, jailbreaking attracts a large amount of it, which is obviously bad for developers.
Take a Bite
Despite the downsides, and the initial complexity of the whole process I still very much prefer to have a jailbroken iOS device over ‘stock’, or even Android.
It’s an excellent way to ‘scratch that niggling itch’ and change things you don’t like about iOS and make your device yours.
I did it, try out my tweak StatusTime+ if you’ve ever wanted to change the format of the status bar clock.