The iPhone changed the landscape of the smartphone market when it was released in 2007. Since that time, Apple’s iconic mobile device has become the object of lust and desire for technology junkies and neophytes alike.
With the introduction of the iPhone 4S, the populace’s desire for the phone has been taken to an entirely new level, and with it the proliferation of blogs, websites and forums full of tips teaching people how to “unlock” and “jailbreak” their new toys. For many, though, these blogs may be leaving them to wonder just what on Earth do “jailbreaking” and “unlocking” mean, and what is the difference between them?
“Unlocking” an iPhone refers to the process by which the phone is made capable of being used on multiple networks. Until February 2011, Apple shipped iPhones with software that restricted the use of the devices to the AT&T network. Apple’s exclusivity deal allowed AT&T customers the option of purchasing an iPhone at a reduced price in exchange for a long-term voice and data contract with the carrier.
Left out in the cold were scores of people who were locked into a contract with another carrier or who were loyal to their current wireless provider. For those customers who were on other networks, they had the option of purchasing an “unlocked” iPhone at full price, between 500 and 700 dollars.
The other option for iPhone users on networks other than AT&T, before the exclusivity agreement ended, was to perform the unlock themselves. The process to unlock iPhone 4S involves a series of steps in order to hack into the phone’s software and connect it to the network of the user’s choosing.
In short, then, “unlocking” an iPhone simply describes how an iPhone is rendered able to be used on cellular networks other than that which the phone was originally set up for.
In order to unlock the phone, though, users must first “jailbreak” it. The initial iteration of the iPhone was made almost entirely proprietary by Apple, meaning initial customization was virtually not allowed using the native software.
Newer updates to the iOS, the phone’s operating system, have allowed for more customization, such as wallpaper and folders. Apple’s iTunes store and the iOS itself, though, still remain more or less on “lockdown,” which means that an unmodified iPhone is unable to run third party programs, or “apps,” that Apple doesn’t sanction or approve. In order to make use of this software, users must first jailbreak iPhone 4S.
“Jailbreaking” describes the process by which Apple’s proprietary software restrictions are removed and the iPhone, is made able to use third party software that Apple would not otherwise allow. Jailbreaking is essentially hacking the operating system.
Both jailbreaking and unlocking involve hacking the iPhone, but for different purposes. Unlocking is undertaken to use the phone on different networks, and jailbreaking is done in order to use unauthorized software and to bypass Apple’s own app store in iTunes.
Both processes should be done with extreme care, if at all. If done improperly, the iPhone can be rendered useless. It’s also important to note that neither Apple or the various cellular networks will support a jailbroken or unlocked phone, and the warranty is voided through the process. Moreover, a jailbroken iPhone may not be ale to receive important software updates available to non-jailbroken devices.