1. Computing

Is Jailbreaking Your iPhone Safe?

Are Whiz Bang Features Worth the Extra Risks?

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Is Jailbreaking Your iPhone Safe?
Photo: Dick Lurla / Getty Images

Moral and legal implications aside, is jailbreaking your iPhone a safe endeavor? Do the benefits outweigh the risks or is it the other way around?

Apple has long ruled over the iTunes App Store with an iron fist. If an app developer creates an app that doesn't play by Apple's rules then it won't be allowed in the app store, no matter how innovative and useful the app may be.

Apple had total control of the app approval proces until the iPhone was hacked, or "jailbroken", which allowed unapproved code to be installed and run without restrictions. Developers who had been shunned by the iTunes app store now had a new market: The Cydia and Rock app stores which were installed as part of the jailbreak process.

These alternative app outlets were a place where developers could sell the apps that were rejected by the official iTunes App Store. I like to picture these app stores as The Island of Misfit Toys from the claymation Christmas classic.

Since the shackles of the iTunes App store overlords were off, app developers were free to innovate to their heart's content. Apps on the Cydia and Rock app stores were often far more innovative and could do cooler stuff than many of their iTunes counterparts. These shiny apps drove many people to contemplate jailbreaking their iPhones so they could get access to the cool stuff that apple wasn't letting into its app store.

Apple likely frowns on the practice of jailbreaking for obvious business-related reasons, however, the practice of jailbreaking appears to have gotten some legal support from the United States Copyright Office.

So the big question remains, is jailbreaking worth it? Here are some things you may want to consider before you decide to jailbreak your iPhone.

1. Jailbroken iPhones tend to have stability issues

Since jailbroken app developers don't have to follow memory and CPU usage guidelines set by Apple, the end result might be reduced battery life, slower performance relative to non-jailbroken iPhones and possible random reboots. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of performance management apps available for jailbroken iPhones, but you may have to play with tweaking settings for awhile if you run into performance-related issues. Then again, many of us geeks love settings tweaking so it's not necessarily a negative.

2. Your warranty is void if you send in your jailbroken iPhone for service

Apple does not provide support for jailbroken iPhones so your warranty would effectively be thrown out the window if Apple finds out that you jailbroke your phone. This could be a problem if you have hardware related issues that require service. It's possible to reverse your jailbreak and put your iPhone back to it's original pre-jailbroken state before you have any warranty related service done, but there is always a chance that Apple may have some hidden way to detect that you jailbroke your iPhone, so don't count on a reverse jailbreak as a cure all.

3. Today's cool jailbroken-only features are likely to be added to future iOS versions

Many new features that are incorporated into the latest and greatest iOS version started out as jailbroken apps. The jailbreaking community has had wireless sync capability for a long time but it was only recently added to iOS 5. If you are willing to wait, your favorite jailbroken-only iPhone feature will likely make its way to a new version of iOS sooner or later. If there is a must have feature that you don't think will ever make it into a new version of the iPhone's iOS, then jailbreaking may be the only way to get it.

4. If the jailbreak doesn't go well, you could "brick" your iPhone

Bricking is a term for when you have done something to your phone that leaves it in a completely unusable state that can't be fixed by rebooting or reloading software. While irreversible bricking of an iPhone is fairly rare, it has been known to occur and it is always a risk when you are attempting a jailbreak, especially if the jailbreaking software is in "beta" form and has not been through a lot of testing.

5. Your jailbroken iPhone may get "locked out" of the App Store or other content services

Although Apple does not appear to be actively condemning or taking any major action against jailbreakers, it is always possible that they could in the future as Sony has reportedly done with people who hacked their PS3s by locking jailbroken PS3 users out of the PlayStation Network and its services.

Apple did effectively prevent many jailbroken iOS users from using the iBook store, but the ban was soon circumvented by jailbreak developers. There was a recent story that stated that Time Warner is now preventing jailbroken iOS devices from being able to use its iPad accessible TV viewing app. Other content providers may follow suit, making jailbreaking less appealing to people who consume a lot of media on their iPhone

6. Jailbreaking can open your iPhone up to malware

Apple's security folks don't play a role in reviewing code of non-iTunes App Store software so you must rely on developers to police their own code for potential security vulnerabilities. There is also the risk of malware developers creating iPhone-specific viruses, spyware, and other malware disguised as legitimate apps. If you do jailbreak your iPhone you should change the root password as soon as the jailbreak is complete or you may be the victim of a hack sooner than you think.

In the end, it's your decision on whether the potential risks are worth the perceived benefits of jailbreaking. For many jailbreakers it's not even about the cool apps, it's about the freedom of being able to thumb their noses at "The Man" and put whatever the heck they want to on their phone without restrictions.

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