I’ll start with a full confession. I’ve never jailbroken my iPhone, or iPad, nor any other smart device I’ve owned. I did briefly jailbreak my Kindle (one of the old ones with the keyboard), just so I could put my own wallpapers on it. There, now my disclosure functions as both a square alert and a nerd alert, just in case there wasn’t already sufficient overlap between the two.
To be fair, I have considered jailbreaking, for a number of the reasons that I’m going to touch on in this article. But ultimately I decided I didn’t want to risk bricking my device or taking on malicious code. And this is before you consider that the legalities of jailbreaking are murky at best. But this is not an article about why not to jailbreak. Rather, this is an article about why someone would want to.
More specifically, this is about how Apple could recognize what drives a lot of users to jailbreak, and the changes they could consequently make to the iTunes App Store, or to the coding on their iPhones and iPads, in order to take the steam out of the jailbreaking movement.
It is of course in Apple’s best interest to curtail jailbreaking. Every Apple product compromised by a virus or other malware, even if each one has been rooted by third-party software, hits the company squarely in its reputation. Also, by opening the door to non-iTunes app stores, jailbreaking dilutes Apple’s brand. But the most important threat that jailbreaking poses to Apple is in the constant communication that users just aren’t happy with their Apple experience. And while jailbreaking is a way of compromising — of getting the experience you want while still having an Apple device — from that compromise, it’s not too far a step for a user to switch over to a competing brand which offers more flexibility.
Currently, Apple continues to find whatever exploits jailbreakers use in order to bypass system restrictions, then closes them in the next iOS edit. And while it remains a vital part of the security process for them to keep an eye on these exploits (since they can be exploited by criminals just as easily as hobbyists), if Apple’s desire is to curtail jailbreaking, that goal can be effected more efficiently by means of some of the actions suggested here.
Acknowledgement: Jailbreakers and Jailbreakers
Going forward, I do want to acknowledge that while there are numerous reasons which compel users to jailbreak their devices, all of these reasons can be put into two camps:
- Those who want more customization and control of their device
- Those who want to bypass paywalls and get (normally) paid services and apps for free
The actions I recommend will do nothing about the second type of people. They’re always going to be there, no matter what happens. But that first type can be catered to relatively easily.* Basically, these are suggestions for Apple if they’re interested in not alienating conscientious consumers who want nothing more than to have a little more control and customization on the device that they paid for, and otherwise love.
*Admittedly, even a lot of users with no malicious intent will jailbreak their iPhones no matter what Apple does, because for some users, the act of hacking and reassembling a cherished device is an affectionate process. Like the fanfic author who likes to reimagine beloved characters in new situations or the jazz musician who wants to personalize an old, revered standard. These users are always going to be there, too, and I say bless ’em. That’s how we got Ms. Pac-Man!
Proposal Zero: Unwall the Garden
One of the big reasons that people jailbreak their phones is in order to install apps that don’t come from the actual iTunes App Store. Perhaps you want an app from a different country that isn’t localized for your region. Or an app with content that Apple wants to distance itself from. In any event, you have to go beyond the App Store, which you currently can’t do on a device with its security protocols still in place.
If Apple were interested in letting users fill this need without jailbreaking their devices, then they could simply lift the coding restrictions which deny devices from being able to purchase from competing app stores. Apple could still prevent any installed apps from accessing the root directory, or other apps, but users would be able to have fuller choice on where to spend their digital dollars.
Why Not? Apple’s big claim to fame for its mobile devices hinges almost exclusively on the stability and security of those devices. That security owes a great deal to the frequently maligned “walled garden” approach that Apple takes for these devices. The folks of Cupertino watch all proposed apps closely, making sure they’re not going to cause any fatal system errors or otherwise compromise users’ devices. And although the rare bad apple occasionally slips through, they generally do a pretty good job about this. Opening up to other app stores trades away both their leverage for quality control, and their ability to ensure everything that gets put on their devices.
And when you consider some of their recent design choices, you can see more clearly that this is probably the action they’d be least likely to take. Take a look at their laptops. Notice that there is no optical drive, and in the newest ones, there are no USB ports. Take a look at their desktops. Once again, no optical drives, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they found some reason to do away with USBs on those as well within a generation or two. (And I’ll lay you odds they’ll do it while telling us with a straight face it’s a feature we never wanted in the first place.) This means no software coming in on a DVD, and no software coming in on a USB. Should they choose to block the installation of downloaded .dmg files, then Apple will have effectively limited all users from making their Apple experience (with purchased Apple devices) into something that Apple doesn’t want it to be.
I resent the approach of this strategy on a full computer, because I expect my computers to do more as rightfully noted by Appamatix. They have better hardware, and are just designed to fulfill a wider range of needs. My mobile device, though, is entirely a thing of convenience. I don’t need it to do everything that I can (and prefer to) do on a computer. And honestly, the population of the App Store is such that you don’t see those walls as often as you used to.
Full disclosure: of all the suggestions I make in this article, this is the one I advocate least, hence why I call it Proposal Zero. It’s here mainly to raise the possibility for discussion, and to indicate that yes, I know this is an action that we as consumers could ask for. I feel much more strongly about some of the others…
Proposal 1: Broaden App Store Samples
One persistent defense that comes up from the jailbreaking community is the desire to be able to try out apps before you pay for them. Granted, not a lot of apps on the App Store reach the $999.99 mark, but even a 99¢ app can be too expensive if it’s useless crap. And oftentimes, when someone is shopping for an app, they’re not just shopping for a specific app — they’re shopping for an app that fills a specific need. That means whatever you’re looking for — something to help you manage your D&D character sheets, a good PDF editor, quality graphing calculators — you’re looking at a dozen closely related apps on the App Store and in review articles. And sometimes, you can’t get all the necessary information from product reviews, no matter how exhaustive. Sure, one reviewer may think this is the best document editor since sliced bread (who’s editing word documents on sliced bread?!), but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to fit your work style or specific needs. No, there are some things you can only learn by trying them out yourself.
And while a lot of apps have a paid/free model, not all do. Enter jailbreaking and, even for those who don’t want to jailbreak, cracked apps and the apps that will allow users to download and install cracked apps. While the legality of jailbreaking is not always clear, cracked apps are more firmly in an illegal camp. Now those of you who, like me, lived through the Napster age have already heard the back and forth argument in which one side shouts “you’re stealing” and another side says “I just want to sample this overpriced CD before I buy it” and neither side really listened to the other.
So while part of me hears claims about “I just want to try this game before I buy it” with skepticism, largely I tend to agree with what Steve Jobs said, that about 80% of people pirating music didn’t want to be thieves. And indeed, when legitimate single-track stores (like iTunes) came into being, and then again when streaming services rose in popularity, we saw a real downtick in pirating. If iTunes could somehow encourage or incentivize more of its developers to have include a limited demo version of their paid apps, I’m sure we’d see a lot fewer users jailbreaking and cracking out there.
Why not? Really, of everything I suggest here, this is the one that I think Apple would be most on board with. But this is ultimately out of their hands. It falls on the developers to bring this change about. Of course, the App Store could provide better incentives — perhaps by offering to let developers keep a larger share of their profits (or preferential search returns) if they offer a demo — but they can only go so far.
The demo standards of invasive ads that you can pay to disappear or of specialized functions you can unlock won’t work for every app. Some apps, you just can’t strip functions away without making the app unusable. In these cases, developers may be better served with a time-based lockout or other hard limit. But the real problem here isn’t just matter of how the demo/pay demarcation is implemented. The real problem is that, in simplest terms, those prices are there (usually) to recoup development costs. And while a big developer could probably absorb the loss of the on-the-fence consumer who downloads, tries, and deletes, smaller developers may be more dependent on every download brining in revenue. I’m not sure if any studies have been done about how demoing affects purchase rates in these situations, but I think it’s something to keep an eye on in the future.
Proposal 2: Allow USB Access
By this, I don’t mean putting a USB port on their devices (though that would be nice). I simply think it would be good for the storage on iPhones and iPads to be accessible. When I plug in my device to my computer, I can currently perform some limited file management through iTunes. I can sync my audio files, pictures, and movies. Do a little with ebooks. And that’s pretty much it. What I want to be able to do, without jailbreaking, is to use whatever empty space there is on my device like a flash drive.
For my work, I’m constantly on and off of shared computers. Also, sometimes I need to pass a file to somebody when (gasp) there isn’t reliable WiFi I have access to. And while I have several flash drives that I use for these purposes, I also have a phone with me all the time. The smart phone age has set us up to where we can have a single device that fills a majority of our needs. Well, this is just another need that can be filled. That way I only need to carry one device, instead of one device and a bunch of tiny, losable, plastic doohickeys.
Why not? I’m sure a few readers have already started heading down to the comments to tell me about a variety of apps that I can use for these purposes. Instead of sharing files with a flash drive, I could use Google Drive or DropBox. Or I could use the Hand Off feature of iOS to give a Keynote presentation from my device, without needing to port over any .pptx files. And there’s the rub — there’s the reason why we haven’t gotten this sort of flash storage utility: nearly everything that can be done by simple USB porting must instead be achieved through a variety of apps, all available in the App Store. Some of these apps are paid, and some require paid subscriptions. And even if not, it still encourages in you the habit of diving into the App Store in order to meet your niche needs — and once there, you can make all kinds of (profitable) discoveries for completely unrelated impulses. In any event, Apple doesn’t want to jeopardize their cut from any such apps by reducing the need for any of them to exist.
There is also the concern of flash storage creating vulnerabilities for the core architecture, but I’m confident that Apple could enable this sort of storage while still protecting the root directories, and even the directories of other installed apps. But while this isn’t very high on Apple’s priority list, I’m sure it’s not all that high on any users’ lists, either. It’s not like there’s a lot of storage space on those devices. Which brings us to…
Proposal 3: Kill the Bloatware
Seriously — kill the bloatware, kill the bloatware, kill the bloatware.
The number one reason that I have ever considered jailbreaking my iPhone and iPad is to get rid of all of the unused crap Apple is convinced that I need in my daily life.
For those who haven’t encountered the term, bloatware refers to the increasing number of un-deletable apps that Apple insists on pre-installing on your device. Looking at my phone now, I see something around thirty-two apps that I can’t uninstall without jailbreaking my device: Stocks, the Apple Watch app (I have no intention on buying an Apple Watch — if I do, I’ll happily install the app at that time), Health, Compass, Newsstand, Tips (which nobody has ever used after owning their device for more than a week)… The list goes on.
It’s not like there aren’t numerous replacements for any of these apps. Instead of Mail, I use the Gmail app. And there is no shortage of great GPS apps to fill in for the lackluster Apple Maps.
Some of these apps, I have used from time to time. The Podcasts app can give me access to a lot of free audiobooks. Calculator is a perfectly serviceable calculator (especially if I turn it sideways). But i’m not particularly married to them, and I’m sure I could find numerous apps on the App Store better suited to my needs.
Meanwhile many of these apps, I have never used. At all. Nor have I ever used any competing app that fills the same function. (I have no stocks to check. I don’t want to broadcast my physical location to everyone in my Contacts.) These apps perform functions that I have no need for. Yet there they are, taking up premium hard drive space. And with successive updates, these apps get bigger, and more numerous.
Why not? “Well, if you want more space, you should just upgrade to the next tier of iPhone.” That’s the only thing I can think of here. But admittedly, I’m not an economist, nor do I have a lot of hard data on Apple’s monetization strategies. Anybody who is, I’d be glad to have your insights down in the comments.
Beyond selling phones, I have no clue why Apple is so interested in clogging up their phones with crappy lackluster apps. If your app would never be on a user’s phone without you requiring it, you have coded a crappy app. How is it in Apple’s interest to have their brand associated with bad apps? And going beyond branding, looking at the App Store economy, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Once I have installed the handful of apps that I plan on using consistently, now I have almost no space on my phone. This means I’m less able to try out new apps on the App Store, and even less likely to purchase new apps. By this bloatware, Apple is cheating themselves out of revenue. (Except, of course, the revenue of the more capacious, higher end iPhones. Yep, that’s their real game here.)
Go ahead, Apple, and pre-install as many apps as you want. I’ll try them. But I want to be able to clear them out of they’re not what I need. Essentially, I think there are only two apps that should be undeletable (three on an iPhone): The Phone app (more of a function than an app), the Settings app (once again, not really an app), and the App Store. I’m sure there are people who would disagree with me about the App Store, but keeping it in place protects Apple’s digital economy, and it can be used to reinstate any of the apps a user has previously deleted.
Proposal 4: Allow for More Interface Customization
And now we’re back to me and my customized Kindle screen savers. Some users turn to jailbreaking just because they want to personalize. They’re fine with the apps, the limitations, the walled garden… They just want to make the interface a little more reflective of them. My first smart phone ran Windows Phone 8, and one thing I loved about that system was the ability to set the size for all of your app tiles. It was a sleek way of making your go-to apps more recognizable. Also, you could change the color of most icons.
I’m glad the iOS allows me to group my icons into folders. It allows me to have all of my stuff on one screen, so I don’t have to endlessly flip to find what I’m looking for. But what if I could but folders inside other folders! (Gasp!) Or if I could color-code a folder box so I can find it more easily, since all the icons move around whenever I flip the orientation of my iPad. Or what if, instead of using folders, we could tag apps, allowing them to appear in multiple categories at once. For instance, YouTube could show up in my “Materials” tag (since I use a lot of videos in my presentations, and thus should show up with the other apps I use to research my presentations) or in my “Entertainment” tag (since, you know, it’s YouTube). Then I wouldn’t have to stop and think, “Wait, which folder did I think it more closely lined up with when I sorted these things out.” Instead, every function’s apps are grouped together.
Also, some users want to change the font. Or the color scheme. Or re-skin everything so it looks like they’re using a PADD from the Starship Enterprise. Or that they’re interfacing with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1981 version). But we can’t. We’re stuck with whatever aesthetic some designers in Cupertino assure us reflects our individuality.
Why not? Well, this one’s kind of flimsy, I’ll admit. So I may be wrong in this. But it seems to me (beyond my early cynicism about Apple not wanting us to have a non-standard Apple experience) that it all comes down to the branding. All phones are more or less the same shape, and come in fairly standard sizes. So how do you recognize when someone is using an iPhone? Especially when that iPhone is (rightly) in a protective case? Well, one way is to have one of those goofy portholes in the back of the case that have no function except to show off the Apple logo at all times. The other way is to have the home screen, menus, and other UI features be distinctly Apple. Now, whenever you look over an iPhone user’s shoulder (or whenever an iPhone is used on TV) — boom, it’s an ad. The distinctive style communicates that hey, this amazing person here is using nothing other than an iPhone! Don’t you want to be just like them? As far as I can see, it’s entirely a branding affair. But I think about the following scenarios:
SCENARIO ONE: “Oh. your icons, fonts, and colors are all the same generic stuff I’ve seen on every other iPhone. This must be an iPhone as well.”
SCENARIO TWO: “Oh, cool! All your menus are like a PipBoy from Fallout 2!” “Yeah, iPhones allow a crazy amount of customization.” “Cool, I should look at getting an iPhone.”
Just a thought.
All of the above is entirely my opinion, but I would be glad to hear what you all have to say. Are there any reasons to jailbreak that I’ve overlook? What are some changes you would like to see? Please let me know in the comments!