He didn't get where he is today by stealing somebody else's catchphrase.

Comfortably numb

Back in August, a group dedicated to hacking the iPhone succeeded in doing something that up to this point nobody else had managed to do - make the job simple. If you wanted to jailbreak your iPhone, the process involved a fair bit of faffing around, meaning that such an undertaking never crossed my mind. Getting it wrong would result in turning your device into an expensive brick - a suitable deterrent, if ever there was one.

You can take a look at jailbreakme.com. Head to the web-page on your phone, take one swipe and five minutes later you’ll have a jailbroken device - although you’ll need the right version of iOS to do it. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a relatively painless experience which has attracted a fair bit of attention. Friends who up to this point couldn’t have cared less wanted to give it a go. For a moment, such an activity became mainstream.

It was only for a moment, though. After I’d jailbroken my iPhone 3G, I reverted it back to standard firmware a month later. But why?

As a geek, I’m always curious about the possibilities of what can be done with technology. From a technical standpoint, the hack was an impressive one. I mean, there aren’t many websites that can completely break your phone in a swipe and install a new application management system, are there?

So it seems a great shame then that Cydia, the application management system of jailbroken iPhones is like the aborted love-child of the Apple Store. Welded together with bits of parcel tape and toilet-roll tubes, the program is unfriendly, slow and worst of all a complete battery gobbler. Woe betide a download over any form of 2G network, WiFi is about the only option that’s sensible - and don’t forget those lovely ads that it’s serving you whilst you download. Don’t get me wrong, everyone’s got to make some money, but it’s a shame that the advert downloading detracts from the overall experience.

Installing software wasn’t always the simplest thing. Multiple versions of plugins existed, depending on what version of iOS you’re using - and multiple versions of the same program could exist for the same version of iOS, resulting in some working better than others. Let’s not forget too that all that time fannying around was running your battery into the ground. Bungled installs and their subsequent removal made my iPhone at times feel uncomfortably warm. It was like I was being punished for taking the wrong option - not that you felt adequately informed at times as to which was the right one.

Software quality was at times a dubious affair. Sure, Apple’s store isn’t necessarily the paragon of all things good (fart apps, anyone?), but you could never be 100% sure about Cydia’s offerings. If your phone could be hijacked and jailbroken that easily by a website, of all things, then an application seems to be giving those pesky malware writers carte blanche to do what they want with your personal data (or worse). We’ve had enough reports about what most “legit” developers are up to with your personal data - but it could be far worse. At least those developers are under some form of public scrutiny.

Believe it or not, though, I am not an Apple fanboi. Ideologically I’m totally for the concept of being able to install, mess around and do what I want with my phone, but being objective about past phones has shown that many providers have had some monstrous network branding in their firmware, stopping you from doing what you want. Vodafone and Orange were bad and Three’s old “walled garden” was very high indeed. The only difference here is that the manufacturer, not the network is placing the restrictions. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if it’s Apple or Vodafone, it still affects the consumer in the same way. My smaller version of “rebellion” now is to use Garageband to create ring tones. I’m not giving Apple any more pennies than I have to.

So I’ve climbed back into my prison cell, upgraded the firmware again and lost my “freedom”. Do I miss it? Nope. Sure, I’ve seen a couple applications out there for jailbroken iPhones that interest me, but the risk seems too great, the quality control to be somewhat ropey and the portal by which one accesses it to to be less than intuitive. If I’m going to risk voiding my warranty for such a task, they’ll have to try a bit harder, to make it more polished experience, that makes me want to give it another go.
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