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iOS Jailbreaking 101 Part 1: Understanding Jailbreaking

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It is extremely difficult to permanently disable your iDevice by simple jailbreaking, but all too easy to lose your data during or after the jailbreaking process. In this first article in a four-part series on jailbreaking, Tim Warner reviews the procedures necessary to ensure the safety of the user-created content that is stored on your iDevice.
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The chances are pretty good that you know someone who has jailbroken his or her iPhone. You probably heard this person rave, "I can do things with my iPhone now that you could only dream of about yours!" Another owner of a jailbroken iPad might say, "I am free from Apple's tyranny and censorship of their App Store!"

What exactly is jailbreaking? Is it legal? If you do it, do you run the risk of permanently damaging your iOS device?

In this article, the first of a four-part series, we will explain all the fundamental concepts of iOS jailbreaking and answer some of the most frequently asked questions about the process. We will assume you know nothing of jailbreaking and possess only a modicum of computer skills and a healthy dose of curiosity on the subject.

Shall we begin?

What Is Jailbreaking?

For our purposes, iOS jailbreaking refers to the process of removing Apple-imposed limitations on its iOS-based mobile hardware; these devices include the following:

The jailbreaking process involves various mechanisms that manipulate or circumvent the device's operating system kernel to allow the user to gain full administrative (root) access to the device. Once the iOS device is jailbroken, the user can install and run unsigned, third-party (read: not Apple-approved) apps.

In short, we jailbreak our iOS device in order to unlock the machine's full potential. Our jailbroken Apple hardware can still access the carrier network (voice and data) and it can still interact with the Apple Store. However, we can also run third-party apps that greatly expand the Apple-blessed capabilities of the device.

For example, some of the cool things you can do only on jailbroken iOS devices include the following:

  • Enabling the Siri Virtual Assistant on the iPhone 4
  • Using FaceTime over 3G and/or 4G networks
  • Using your iOS device as a free, high-speed modem
  • Completely revamping the user interface to suit user's personality and preference
  • Selectively blocking calls and text messages
  • Quickly launching apps and switching between them
  • Downloading YouTube videos
  • Playing vintage console and arcade videogames in emulation
  • Greatly expanding SMS capability
  • Allowing for user-defined gestures
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