Jailbreaking is a process that allows users to run code not authorized by Apple on their iPhone or iPod Touch. Once jailbroken, iPhone users are able to download thousands of unofficial applications, modifications and themes that are not available through the Apple App Store. This process is completed using unofficial installers such as Cydia and Icy, which are generally installed at the time of the jailbreak.
It is important to note that jailbreaking is different from unlocking. Unlocking is where the iPhone is modified so that it can accept any GSM mobile operator. Unlocking tends to be a more complex process then jailbreaking, which can result in you bricking (breaking) your iPhone.
Jailbreaking was very popular when the iPhone was first released back in June 2007, as the early versions of the iPhone OS only supported third-party "web applications", which most developers found very limiting. As a result an "underground" development team set about achieving the world's first iPhone Jailbreak, to allow native applications to be developed for the platform.
In mid-2008 Apple finally responded to the developers frustrations with the release of an official SDK, iPhone emulator and the App Store. Since that time, thousands of applications have been developed for the iPhone. You could argue that this should have ended the need to Jailbreak, however due to Apple's tight "locked down" approach to application approval, many developers felt that the App Store did not provide the openness and flexibility they were looking for. As a result Jailbreaking still exists and there are literally thousands of unofficial applications available through third party installers.
So is it worth you Jailbreaking your iPhone? Let's take a look at a few of the top rated applications / modifications which are not available on the official App Store:
Apple have never been a big fan of custom themes. They like to have complete control over every aspect of the users experience with their products. For the most part I agree with this policy as the Apple development team are the best in the business and they have proven time and time again that they know how to create an intelligent and beautiful user experience. The downside to this policy is that with millions of iPhone's on the market it is very difficult to bring any sense of personal style to the device.
Welcome WinterBoard. This application allows you to customise every aspect of your iPhone's look and feel as well as automatically load pre-built themes. There are thousands of themes to choose from which makes finding one that you really like a bit of a challenge, however the team over at iPhoneRuler have hand picked some of the best. Personally I really like "Nova" which is an incredibly professional and polished theme that includes over 60 springboard icons. Check out the screenshot below:
The best thing about custom themes on the iPhone is that they work just like the standard iPhone theme, allowing you to use any feature or application on your iPhone in exactly the same way as you did before.
One weakness of the iPhone has always been multi-tasking. This is the process of allowing you to run more than one application at a time. I can understand why Apple does not allow this by default as it often results in a poor user experience and is the number one cause of slow performance and loss of stability. That said, many users would still like the option to multi-task (just like on Google Android and webOS).
Thankfully a combination of the applications Backgrounder and Kirkae remove this constraint. Firstly, Backgrounder allows you to put any iPhone application into the background by pressing and holding the home button. This means that if you are listening to Internet radio via Safari it will continue to play even after you have left the application. Kirkae is a separate application, but accompanies Backgrounder perfectly by offering an overview of all running applications. This allows you to quickly switch between them or close any application you're finished with.
The YouTube video below shows these two applications running togther:
Unlocking Hidden Preferences
SBSettings is an iPhone application that unlocks a huge number of hidden preferences. This gives you complete control over almost every aspect of your iPhone. Once installed you activate SBSettings by swiping over the menu-bar (at the top, where the time is shown). This will activate the application and a new menu will slide down over the springboard. The images below shows SBSettings in action:
Wireless File Sharing
The final application I believe to be worth mentioning is Netatalk. Normally the only way to transfer data to your iPhone is via USB and iTunes. This can be a bit of a pain especially if you want more open access to the iPhone's file system. Netatalk resolves this issue by running a service in the background on your iPhone that allows other Mac's to connect to the device directly from Finder. This make copying data to and from your iPhone as easy as any other Mac on your network.
These five applications are what I consider the most interesting available on the Jailbreaking scene, as they actually provide new features to the iPhone that can't be got through the official App Store. As to whether they are compelling enough for you to Jailbreak your iPhone, I think comes down to personal preference. I would predict that 99% of people with an iPhone have no need for these extra "power features" and will happily wait for Apple to fill the gaps with future firmware updates (even if this does take a while).
Please note: LifeinTECH does not recommend modifying your iPhone in any way, as this process may result in irreversible damage to the device and void your warranty.