Some jailbreak-enabled features run afoul of Apple's relationships with business partners. For example, tethering an iPhone to a notebook or desktop computer to enable the computer to surf the Web via AT&T's EDGE and 3G networks violates AT&T's policy for iPhones. When iPhone developer NullRiver posted its NetShare app on Apple's store last summer, Apple quickly yanked it once its tethering capabilities became popular. Confusingly, AT&T offers tethering as a $15-per-month add-on for LG, Motorola, Nokia, RIM, and other handsets. But not the iPhone -- AT&T's terms for that handset specifically forbid tethering on the device.
Further impeding developers' ability to serve the kind of functionality iPhone power users want is Apple's SDK itself. The tool, and its restrictive user agreement, corrals developers into a tightly controlled sandbox that makes some applications impossible. For instance, Veency is a VNC (virtual network computing) server that runs on the iPhone, allowing you to manipulate the phone's interface directly on a computer desktop -- a boon for massive text-entry tasks. But because Apple's SDK prohibits server apps, the Cydia Store is the only source for Veency. TV-Out lets you transmit live video from the iPhone camera to a TV or DVD recorder via a standard video cable; Apple's SDK only lets you send still pictures and iPod or YouTube videos to TV. SwirlySMS sends and receives rich-content SMS, another capability restricted by the SDK. Searcher lets you scan all iPhone contents -- SMS, contacts, notes, events, bookmarks, and other files -- for any string. Apple SDK apps don't have access to global phone contents.
Background apps: The Holy Grail of power use
Jailbreak apps circumvent hardware and software restrictions that Apple says ensure a consistent, responsive user interface and optimal battery endurance. In particular, jailbroken phones can run apps in the background, a capability Apple reserves for its own apps but prohibits in third-party programs.
Freeman, however, believes a free-market approach is the best way to satisfy power users' demands for features without compromising the performance of their iPhones.
"Apple should let users, and the marketplace, decide what apps are too strenuous for the iPhone's performance and battery life," he says, pointing out the Cydia Store app FindMyi as an example. The app runs in the background and wakes up every few minutes to sense and transmit the iPhone's location to a tracking site. Users can then track their phones via GPS or cell site triangulation by subscribing to the FindMyi service for a monthly fee. The app locks the iPhone if the user reports it stolen. The app's developer claims its tracking activities are not battery-intensive and don't seriously reduce battery endurance.
Apple recently announced a 3.0 firmware upgrade for the iPhone that delivers some capabilities currently unique to jailbroken phones. Available this summer, the update sports cut and paste, Spotlight global search, the ability to forward SMS and voice mail, and MMS capabilities. These coincide with some jailbreak capabilities, but don't provide others, such as background processing, video recording and streaming, and direct video output. Ironically, some 3.0 features, such as Wi-Fi hotspot auto-login, contradict Apple's former concerns over battery life. Interestingly, Apple's beta 3.0 firmware -- made available to registered developers -- supports tethering, although there is no word from Apple on that capability making it into the final release.