Although most iPhone users seem satisfied with the smorgasbord of applications delivered by Apple's iPhone App Store, power users yearn for more. Copy and paste, video recording and streaming, Internet tethering, and content search are just a few features third-party developers have already delivered to users hungry enough to "jailbreak" their iPhones.
And though Apple's forthcoming 3.0 firmware update promises to deliver some power-use upgrades, jailbreaking should continue to push the iPhone's productivity envelope, especially as users increasingly demand the Holy Grail of smartphone power use: applications that run in the background.
Jailbreaking: Inside Apple's lock-down agenda
To date, the only way to satisfy yearnings for UI improvements such as copy-and-paste and to access locked-down iPhone features like video recording and streaming, Internet tethering, GPS, and content searching has been to "jailbreak" your iPhone, a process that liberates the device from Apple's tightly controlled App Store, allowing you to install powerful software from a variety of third parties. Jailbreaking also can enable you to unlock your iPhone from Apple's exclusive AT&T wireless service contract, leaving you free to use other providers' networks worldwide.
[ Read InfoWorld blogger Bill Snyder's call to free the iPhone | View InfoWorld's best business app picks that don't require jailbreaking and the 21 apps Apple doesn't want you to run on your iPhone ]
Apple's opposition to the features power users seek is no secret. Apple claims these features will unacceptably reduce battery life, slow performance, and place an undue burden on Apple's iPhone support infrastructure. Apple routinely blocks apps it doesn't like from its store, often for inscrutable reasons that some developers attribute to competitive motives rather than concern for iPhone users' productivity.
Despite its formal opposition, Apple has done little to crack down on consumers who jailbreak their phones, beyond instituting half-hearted firmware changes that jailbreak developers easily circumvent. The legal status of jailbreaking, however, is not yet settled. Apple claims it is illegal under the much maligned Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). But major movers in the technology legal arena call Apple's restrictions both harmful to innovation and an improper application of DMCA rules. Open source browser developer Mozilla joined the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in requesting an exemption to the DMCA specifically clarifying that installation of legal apps on cell phones does not infringe the phone manufacturer's copyright. Worse, iPhone users belatedly discovered that Apple can reach out and delete applications from their phones.