Back when the iPhone was still suckling at the teats of limited web-apps, it had little to recommend itself other than its great touchscreen and OS. Fortunately, a group of pioneers forged their way into the device’s firmware and suddenly, the iPhone learned to walk. No longer just an Apple-branded phone with a few cute features: it became a viable alternative for the . It could run heaps of apps, some of which persist today through the App Store. Indeed, the Jailbreak community is the training wheels for the great dev community which exists on the iPhone today: a fact Apple wold be wise to remember in its ire to halt further Jailbreak developments.
There is no mistaking the fact that Apple designed the iPhone for software development. But in 2007, it was too full of gaps and promises to be a really worthy competitor to other, better entrenched smartphones. Dare I say it, even Windows Mobile — which knows nothing of style and even less about its competition — was ahead.
Back before installers or one-click Jailbreaks, I freed my iPod touch for one reason: eBooks. There are thousands of amazing canonical books in hundreds of languages scattered about the net in community projects such as Gutenburg. I am a reader – books brought me into the Jailbreak scene.
There were emulators, beta apps which eventually graduated to for-pay App Store hits, and great maintenance apps which did their best to fight against the hitherto memory limitations; the community was alive and excited. Why had Apple released a device like the iPhone without native ability to run apps which it was fully capable of doing? Fast forward nearly a year later to the release of OS 2.0 and the App Store. Those apps came and dazzled us. My first purchase is a game I no longer play: Crash Bandicoot. Then I cut my iDevice racing teeth on Asphalt 4 and as time went on, dished out a lot more dosh on many more apps.
At the same time, the Jailbreak community didn’t fade away with the advent of official apps, some of which eclipsed their muses. It took on a different role for many – an unfortunate, but inevitable role: piracy. There are many, many other roles which an iPhone Jailbreak can help with, but piracy is in many circles, the crux of the movement. And the group who Jailbreak to pirate are largely comprised of two groups: 1. app mongers who just need to download the latest and greatest; 2. real pirates. The first may or may not ever play a game, they just need to have the software; it is a point of pride. The second of course is that group who won’t pay a dime on any platform. They probably pirate console games, PC software, and when that business gets tiring, may move to the open seas between Africa and South America for some real adventure.
I won’t touch statistics – that isn’t my point. The Jailbreak scene is still delivering amazing functionality which doesn’t step on the fiscal toes of developers; it still pushes the boundaries of the platform. Apple of course want to shut it down, either by battening down the hatches of new products, securing them against hackers; or, pursuing legal means to shut down the Jailbreak community.
If the decision is purely monetary, Apple may have to check their books. The App Store isn’t going to make the computer giant that much richer; it will help their bottom line, but Apple’s bread and butter is hardware sales. The pittance they lose from pirated apps, and by parenthesis, Cydia store apps will not bring the white blanket over any capital gain. By coming down hard on a thriving community of Apple hardware fans, they are alienating a group of people who at least pay for and enjoy, Apple hardware. And, the Jailbreak community’s every move is closely watched by the press; Apple don’t need another public fumble.