The iPhone is a wondrous tool and an object of beauty, without a doubt the iconic symbol of the 2010s. It’s also, like many Apple offerings, a radically unfree, closed piece of technology: heavily controlled and regimented in ways that may well enhance quality control and aesthetic perfection, but at the expense of seeming hostile to users. For example, in the United States, if you wanted to be an iPhone owner but didn’t want to sign up for a two-year contract with AT&T, you were out of luck.
Mere days after the first iPhone was released in 2007, however, jailbreaking software began to circulate that not only opened the phone up for unauthorized tinkering but also made it possible to unlock phones from the official carrier.
Without incriminating myself (despite Apple’s litigious zeal, the U.S. Copyright Office explicitly permits jailbreaking), allow me to confess: I chose to purchase a used iPhone from eBay that had been unlocked and jailbroken to work on my network. It cost me less than $200 and I didn’t have to change plans.
There was a downside, however: I had to be careful never to sync the phone with my iTunes, as that would load a new version of iOS and turn my phone into a “brick.” Not having the latest OS version also meant that I couldn’t download certain programs from the App Store, which limited my phone’s usefulness, if only on occasion.
But the real disadvantage to having a jailbroken phone was something I only learned recently. After having my fancy new toy for about ten months, I dropped it in a toilet. D’oh!
I dried the phone out (in a sealed container of uncooked rice, that’s the trick). Now, it starts up but I only get the “Emergency call only” screen. The jailbreak software won’t load. There’s also some kind of battery problem: it will only turn on when plugged in.
I could maybe get that fixed, but I can’t very well take it to an Apple Store and have someone at the Genius Bar fix it, because they’d take me away in handcuffs and I’d have to plot a jailbreak of my own! (Okay, probably not.)
So what will I do? Well, I’ll get by with a cheap (non-smart) phone for at least a few months, then maybe I’ll bite the bullet and sign up with AT&T so I can get the brand new iPhone 5. You win, monopolistic corporations! Seriously though, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to buy a jailbroken phone, just a risky one. If you want to do things the underground way, good for you, but you’ll be taking your chances.