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Jailbreaking in the iPhone 3.0 era

Jailbreaking in the iPhone 3.0 era

Apple's iPhone OS 3.0 firmware unlocked many capabilities, but users seek more from their iPhones through jailbroken apps

Meanwhile, Apple has not altered its SDK restriction on interpreted code, which rules out Flash and Java applications (although Adobe purportedly has a Flash work-around), as well as Flash video playing inside the iPhone's Safari Web browser. Web browsers themselves remain off limits as an app category, except for simple repackaging of the iPhone's built-in Webkit HTML rendering engine.

Then there are certain iPhone capabilities that Apple still reserves for itself: background processing, video recording on pre-3G S devices, application launching, video output, lockscreen and wallpaper customization, interface skinning, GPS tracking, and remote control of an iPhone from your desktop computer (a la Apple's Mac OS X Screen Sharing).

Each of these limitations provides incentive for the jailbreaking community to thrive.

Apple's ongoing objections to iPhone jailbreaking Apple's company line on the kind of features jailbreakers seek remains steadfast: These features reduce battery life, slow performance, introduce security vulnerabilities, stress the 3G network, and increase Apple support costs. It is under the auspices of these objections that Apple routinely blocks apps it doesn't like from its App Store. Some developers argue, however, that often such blocking happens more for competitive reasons than out of concern for iPhone users' safety and productivity.

Still, many of Apple's concerns have in fact materialized in jailbroken apps. Background processing does reduce battery life and overall performance, according to users, but these same consumers say the feature is worth the hit as long as they can control its application. Battery drain is also a key symptom of a particular jailbroken-iPhone worm infection. Jailbreaking proponents, however, point out that the worm can only infect phones that users haven't properly secured by changing the default password. As for stressing the 3G network, most signs point to regional differences in AT&T cellular data capacity as the root cause of this issue, as opposed to anything that jailbreaking would exacerbate.

Performance issues aside, Apple has registered its formal opposition to jailbreaking under the cloak of copyright, claiming the act is illegal under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). This claim has been disputed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and open source Web browser developer Mozilla, which has called Apple's restrictions both harmful to innovation and an improper application of DMCA rules. Apple has thus far taken no legal action against users who jailbreak their phones, nor against any jailbreak-enablers, including the iPhone Dev Team, which has managed to jailbreak every iPhone OS update to date.

Meanwhile, the EFF and Mozilla have asked the U.S. Copyright Office for an exemption specifically permitting installation of legal apps on iPhones. The Office listened to arguments on both sides in a May 2009 hearing, but has missed its own October projection for a decision and has yet to issue its opinion.

Jailbreaking encourages iPhone innovation Long before Apple launched its iPhone App Store in 2008, jailbreak users could download apps from a variety of repositories at a time when Apple limited customers to the apps it delivered with the phone. In fact, some argue that jailbreaking was instrumental in educating Apple about the shortcomings of its built-in apps, prompting it to launch the iPhone App Store to give developers an opportunity to fill the gaps.

Since then, Apple has demonstrated a pattern of recognizing features of interest in popular jailbroken apps, then addressing users' desires for those features with OS updates. iPhone OS 3.0 follow-up updates have included features such as video archiving and editing, Bluetooth-enabled voice control, desktop-based application reorganization, pop-up blocking, wireless ringtone downloads, and remote handset locking and erasing, all of which originated in jailbroken apps.

Jailbroken apps may also have played a part in persuading Apple to loosen restrictions on certain application programming techniques that were previously disallowed, such as exploitation of so-called private API functions. In addition to concessions on VoIP apps, Apple has approved live streaming video apps such as Ustream Live Broadcaster and iPhone development aid iSimulate, both of which use private APIs.

Apple's capriciousness drives developers to jailbreak The iPhone's 140,000 apps (and counting) continue to enrich both Apple and independent iPhone developers. Yet Apple's uneven App Store administration threatens to kill, or at least maim, the app cash cow, despite recent signs of flexibility from Apple. In November 2009, Apple drove away major iPhone developer Rogue Amoeba after repeatedly rejecting its Airfoil Speakers Touch 1.0.1 app update. Rogue CEO Paul Kafasis said in his corporate blog, "Rogue Amoeba no longer has any plans for additional iPhone applications, and updates to our existing iPhone applications will likely be rare. The iPhone platform had great promise, but that promise is not enough, so we're focusing on the Mac."


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