Should You Really Jailbreak Your iPhone?

iPhone jailbreak

Is an iPhone jailbreak a good idea, or will you end up regretting the decision? Here’s what you need to know. | Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

For many people, an iPhone is pretty useful the way it is, with an intuitive interface and great apps. But customizing an iPhone is a little more difficult than customizing an Android phone. It’s a common iOS myth that Apple has made iOS just as customizable as Google’s much-more open operating system. But in reality, iOS is a walled garden that leaves a lot of control in Apple’s hands. That’s why a lot of people turn to an iPhone jailbreak to remove Apple’s restrictions and gain more control over how they can customize their iPhones and what software they can install.

Rob Mead-Green reports for MacWorld that Apple has been “playing a cat-and-mouse game” with jailbreakers ever since the iPhone launched in 2007. He notes that “it’s easy to understand the jailbreakers’ frustration.” Even if you download alternatives to iOS’s default apps, iOS always reverts to the defaults for things like clicking on a URL or an email address. You can’t change the iPhone’s default look and feel, manage internet downloads, or install apps that aren’t available in the iOS App Store. “You can only do what Apple lets you do. Unless you jailbreak your iPhone, that is.”

While jailbreaking your iPhone will make it easier for you to customize your iPhone and get it to look the way you want it to, it bears considering that an iPhone jailbreak will compromise the security and stability of your iPhone in some key ways. But is an iPhone jailbreak really a good idea? Is jailbreaking safe and legal, and is it something you should consider for your iPhone? Read on to learn everything you need to know before making your decision.

What is an iPhone jailbreak?

Apple iPhones are displayed during a press preview of the new flagship Apple Store

Jailbreaking your iPhone enables you to get around the restrictions that Apple imposes on iOS | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Jailbreaking your iPhone is simply changing the software to remove Apple’s restrictions and limitations (chief of which is the stipulation that you can only download apps from Apple’s official iOS App Store). With a jailbroken iPhone, you can install software from other app stores or from files downloaded from the internet.

Jailbreaking is easy to do, though Apple disapproves and it invalidates your warranty. Mead-Green reports that the way you’ll jailbreak your iPhone depends on which version of iOS you’re running, and brand-new versions of iOS usually can’t be jailbroken until some time has elapsed since their release. (It takes some time for jailbreakers to find a way to get around the new safeguards and restrictions that Apple has included in the software.)

The easiest way to jailbreak an iPhone is to install a jailbreaking app like Pangu on your Mac or PC, which will take admin-level control of iOS and enable it to install Cydia, which is the jailbreaking community’s alternative to the App Store. If you choose to jailbreak your iPhone, you should always back up your iPhone first. That way, you’ll be able to restore your data in case something goes wrong, and you’ll also be able to restore it to its non-jailbroken state if you ever need to take it to Apple to have it repaired.

What are the reasons you should jailbreak your iPhone?

iPhones are displayed during a press preview of the new flagship Apple Store

An iPhone jailbreak will enable you to customize your iPhone more than you’d otherwise be able to | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A major argument cited by iPhone jailbreak proponents is that you should be able to do what you like with your iPhone. Another is that jailbreaking your iPhone will enable you to download apps from anywhere, not just from the App Store. You’ll also be able to more fully take advantage of alternatives to iOS’s default apps. An iPhone jailbreak will enable you to customize your phone’s look far more completely than you’re able to with the controls built into iOS. Additionally, you’ll be able to tether your Mac to your iPhone and bypass your network’s expensive and restrictive Mobile Hotspot feature.

Some people think that jailbreaking has outlived its utility in some ways — and they do have a point, which we’ll cover soon — but Craig Lloyd reports for Gotta Be Mobile that there are reasons to jailbreak even the recent iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus. An iPhone jailbreak can make the lock screen more useful, and can even enable you to create multiple lock screens with different kinds of information on each one. You’ll be able to use apps that Apple has banned from the official iOS App Store, and you’ll be able to set your own default apps.

Additionally, jailbreaking your iPhone will enable you to customize the Control Center, protect more of your apps with Touch ID, and enable better anti-theft features and a variety of different security measures. Additionally, you’ll be able to adjust user interface elements, create useful shortcuts, get rid of the iOS behaviors that annoy you, adjust the behavior of third-party apps, and expand 3D Touch capabilities.

What are the reasons you shouldn’t jailbreak your iPhone?

iPhone covers are displayed during a press preview of the new flagship Apple Store

Jailbreaking your iPhone will compromise the security and stability of your device | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Just as there are numerous reasons to consider an iPhone jailbreak, there are plenty of reasons why you shouldn’t jailbreak your iPhone. Jailbreaking your device will invalidate your iPhone’s warranty and is in breach of iOS’s End User Licence Agreement, which is why Apple Store employees won’t repair a jailbroken phone. Jailbreaking an iPhone will enable you to install all kinds of apps, including bad apps that are infected by malware.

Even worse, every iOS update will break a jailbroken iPhone, or you’ll have to wait for an updated jailbreak to become available, since Apple is always updating iOS to prevent jailbreaking techniques from working. When a new vulnerability is detected, Apple issues a fix, but a jailbroken iPhone won’t be able to download updates or security patches without reverting to its original state. Jailbreaking your iPhone can come with unforeseen consequences, like features and apps that stop working, battery life that becomes shorter, or software that keeps crashing. That may not be a risk that you should take if the iPhone was gifted to you or was issued by your employer.

Jeff Benjamin reports for 9to5Mac that with each new iPhone jailbreak that comes out, the first few versions are “buggy as all get out, only to be refined during subsequent releases that occur during the days and weeks post release.” He advises that “even if you do decide to jailbreak, it may be best for you to hold off for at least a few days or weeks.” The tools that you need to jailbreak your iPhone include your Apple ID and password, and Pangu’s official tool for jailbreaking iOS 9.3.3, for instance, is Windows-only (which can be a problem for Mac users).

Is jailbreaking your iPhone legal and safe?

man visits the Apple Store

An iPhone jailbreak is legal, but that doesn’t mean that Apple approves | Kena Betancur/Getty Images

As MacWorld reports, the consensus is that jailbreaking is legal in the United States, though there’s “a lack of test cases to establish the matter definitively one way or the other.” In 2010, the U.S. Copyright Office declared jailbreaking an exception to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, after years of manufacturers trying to make jailbreaking a violation of the law. But if you’re concerned about the legality of an iPhone jailbreak, you should probably avoid jailbreaking your device.

Jason Koebler reports for Motherboard that federal law does protect your right to jailbreak your phone, and manufacturers can’t legally void the hardware warranty just because you altered the software. In order to void the warranty without violating federal law, the manufacturer would have to prove that the modifications you made led to a hardware malfunction. Manufacturers like Apple still discourage jailbreaking (or rooting) because they lose control over the ecosystem. Apple still warns users about the problems associated with jailbreaking, and says that it may deny service “for an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch that has installed any unauthorized software.”

As for the question of whether jailbreaking an iPhone is safe, the answer depends on your definition of “safe.” A jailbroken iPhone leaves you with a system that’s less secure, less stable, and more prone to errors. It’s usually only a good choice if you like tinkering with your devices, and it’s not recommended if you don’t want to spend some time troubleshooting occasionally. You’ll need to look out for malware, be security-conscious, and be aware that some jailbreak tweaks can include backdoors that will leave your personal information vulnerable to hackers. Jailbroken devices are also easier for governmental agencies to access.

So should you jailbreak your iPhone?

member of the media tries an Apple Inc. iPhone SE

Trying to figure out whether to jailbreak your iPhone? For most people, the risk isn’t worth it anymore. | Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

Dann Albright reports for MakeUseOf that while there are still benefits to jailbreaking, Apple has been incorporating many of the most popular tweaks found in Cydia directly into iOS. That includes interactive notifications, custom keyboards, wider Touch ID use, and the “Hey Siri” functionality introduced in iOS 8, plus the overlaid videos, easier text selection, battery-saving mode, and Quick Reply notifications from iOS 9. There will always be features that jailbreak-only apps can offer that Apple won’t, but Albright notes that the number of tweaks that Cydia and other app repositories “have a monopoly on is getting smaller with each new release of iOS.”

With diminishing benefits for an iPhone jailbreak, it’s an easy decision for most iPhone users to forego jailbreaking their devices. For most people, jailbreaking just isn’t worth the risk anymore. But if you like troubleshooting your devices and don’t mind the compromised security and stability of a jailbroken iPhone, nobody is going to stop you. Just make sure that you back up your data and stay vigilant about security risks in case anything goes wrong. Jailbreaking your iPhone can be fun if you like taking some risks. A good compromise is to jailbreak an iPhone that isn’t the device you use on a daily basis, but to implement an iPhone jailbreak on a backup device instead.