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Is iPhone jailbreaking still a thing? What the community looks like in 2023
Ever since the release of the first iPhone, advanced users have looked for ways to unlock the full potential of Apple’s iOS operating system. In 2007, the first iOS jailbreak allowed users to set custom ringtones, install third-party games, and customize the home screen. Over the years, however, Apple has taken inspiration from many jailbreak-only features and baked them directly into iOS. With that in mind, is jailbreaking an iPhone or iPad still worthwhile? Here’s what you need to know.
What does an iPhone jailbreak do? Why is it popular?
“Jailbreak” means using an exploit in a locked-down operating system like iOS to gain privileged or superuser access. With system-level access, you can remove software locks and other restrictions.
People have been jailbreaking the iPhone in one way or another for over 15 years now. Early iOS versions didn’t offer many of the smartphone features we now take for granted, motivating advanced users for a way to bypass Apple’s restrictions. Hence, the term jailbreak.
Jailbreaking allows you to sideload apps and customize various aspects of the default iOS experience.
Copy and paste functionality, for example, didn’t exist on the first iPhone. Similarly, you couldn’t use the device on any cellular carrier — motivating even more users to look for a way to unlock their device. Within the first year, developers found and exploited a security hole in the iPhone’s Safari web browser to gain full access to the underlying system. From there, it didn’t take long for third-party apps, games, and even an alternate app store to become available.
In the following years, jailbreaking allowed users to install emoji, theme status bars, customize their home screen, switch to third-party keyboards, and more. And while many of those features are now part of the core iOS experience, many advanced users still rely on jailbreaking to get around limitations. Sideloading apps, for example, is heavily restricted compared to Android — unless you pay for an Apple-approved developer account. Similarly, jailbreaking is the only way to fully overhaul core aspects of iOS and iPadOS such as the lock screen, status bar, and Control Center.
Is iOS jailbreaking still a thing?
Apple has actively opposed jailbreaking ever since the beginning. The company argues that it can compromise device security and stability on devices like the iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV. This is despite the fact that Android smartphone makers like Samsung and Google offer users the ability to bypass device restrictions and install unofficial software. So with iOS devices, hackers and security experts have to reverse engineer parts of the operating system to find a viable jailbreak method — and hope that it goes unnoticed.
Finding a jailbreak involves reverse engineering new iOS releases every year to find security holes that can be exploited.
As you’d expect, Apple often issues software updates that patch security loopholes and other potential exploits that could be used by jailbreaking tools. And like most other tech companies, it also offers handsome bounties to third-party security researchers, encouraging them to privately disclose exploits rather than publicly releasing them. For these reasons, the iOS jailbreak community is now much smaller than in the past.
But while finding exploits has become increasingly difficult for the shrinking developer community, you can still jailbreak many recent Apple products. The exact process can vary quite a bit depending on the device and iOS version, though, so you’ll have to scour forums like Reddit’s r/jailbreak for the latest instructions.
Should you jailbreak your iPhone or iPad?
Even today, jailbreaking gives you access to a range of customization options. For example, you can install apps that bring newer iOS features like gesture navigation to older devices and versions. Beyond that, you can also install apps that either remove Apple’s restrictions or mod new functionality into existing apps. Some popular examples include CarBridge and Cercube [no longer available]. You can also find jailbreak tweaks that simply add quality-of-life improvements — Activator, for one, lets you assign custom shortcuts to any gesture or button press.
Jailbreaking doesn't just allow you to escape Apple's App Store walled garden, it also brings new iOS features to older unsupported devices.
Given these benefits, jailbreaking may seem like a no-brainer. However, there are many hurdles to overcome first. For one, your device may not even have a jailbreak available for it yet or you may have already updated to the latest, patched iOS version. And even if you do manage to unlock your device, you won’t be able to update to the latest iOS version without losing the jailbreak.
Finally, it’s worth reiterating the security and stability aspect. If you know what you’re doing, jailbreaking isn’t inherently any more dangerous than an unmodified device. However, banking apps as well as some online games with anti-cheat will likely detect that you’ve tampered with the phone’s software and prevent you from using them.
All in all, you have to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of jailbreaking for your specific needs and decide whether it’s worth the trouble. One thing’s for sure, though — Apple’s continually working to ensure that users have fewer reasons to jailbreak. And even without a jailbreak, iOS does a few things better vs Android.
The first step to jailbreaking an iPhone is to stay on the oldest version of iOS. This means ignoring the update prompt when you buy a new iPhone. Next, head to Reddit’s jailbreak community and check the sidebar for the latest available jailbreak. If one exists for your device and iOS version, simply follow the step-by-step guide.
Yes, iOS 16 has an experimental jailbreak but it currently only supports devices with Apple’s older A8 to A11 chips.
No, jailbreaking an iPhone is not illegal. However, it will void your warranty if you send your device for a repair with the jailbreak still active.
Jailbreaking an iPhone doesn’t cost you anything. However, the developers of jailbreak tools like Cydia rely on community donations.