Should You Jailbreak Your Smartphone?
By Robert McMillen, Koin’s Tech Guru
I hear a lot about people “jailbreaking” their phone and their reasons why, but even more people don’t exactly understand what it is.
Q - “I have an iPhone and my co workers have been telling me I should jailbreak it, but I have no idea if there’s any advantage to it, or if it could cause me trouble. Also, I don’t completely understand what it is but I just nod my head like I understand. So what is it? Trent H. Tigard, OR.
A - So Trent, you want to break your phone out of the slammer, do you? Well, we have ways of dealing with troublemakers like you.
I can picture Trent’s phone right now in a little prison cell screaming for a lawyer and asking for his one phone call. Then he realizes he’s a phone and he can call as many people as he wants. Then, he just feels silly.
Here is the explanation for all the talk about “jailbreaking” your phone. When a phone is purchased by you from a cell phone company, you can buy it one of two ways. One way would be to buy it for a ridiculously low price (or even free), as long as you sign up for a two year agreement. If not, then you’ll pay a higher price for an unattached or a “no contract” phone. This is because with a contract, the cell phone company pays for most of the cost to the cell phone makers. This is called a subsidy.
For example, an iPhone can now be purchased for as little as $100 but ATT pays $400 to Apple to make up the difference. ATT makes up their money every month when you send them a check for the service you use.
When you sign the contract, you agree to stay with that phone company for the length of the contract or you’ll pay a hefty fee for breaking it. The phone is then locked into that phone provider and can only be used by that provider during the contract. If you jailbreak it you can use it with any other provider whenever you want. Here is where it gets sticky, because Apple had turned the first generation of iPhones into unusable “bricks” when they pushed out an update to the phones. If you had altered your phone by “jailbreaking” it, then it became unusable. (They have since changed that practice.)
You jailbreak your phone by typing a code and pushing a series of buttons that unlocks the phone, and can then be used by any carrier. The ways of doing this are all over the internet, so I won’t go into them here. You can, however, just type “jailbreak” and your phone model into Google and you’ll find lots of sites. T-Mobile does a nice thing for its customers by sending you the code and instructions for a mere $35. Some think that this only applies to smart phones (phones that have a web browser and email), but you can jailbreak any phone.
The next big question is dealing with the legality of it all. There have been rumors of phone companies adding to the contract that if you try to unlock the phone in an unauthorized way you could go to jail. So far, I haven’t heard of this happening to anyone yet, but for many people the threat alone may be enough to keep them from doing it. Just ask the folks who were successfully sued by the recording industry for downloading music without paying for it. The record people sued everyone, including the parents and grandparents of the kids who downloaded the music on their computer.
So, why risk all this just to change phone companies? For most it’s not about the phone provider. Let’s face it. They’re all pretty much alike. When have you ever gotten off the phone with one of them, feeling like you had a pleasant experience like this? “Wow! My cell phone company made me feel so good about myself. They answered my call on the first ring, and gave me a break on my bill because of a few dropped calls. I felt like they really cared about my satisfaction with their product. Oh, look at the butterflies and rainbows!” Most people I know have a slightly different experience from that. I have heard it’s more like “Wow! Now I understand why people go postal.”
There are other advantages to unlocking your phone, especially if it’s a smart phone. You can download applications that you couldn’t otherwise get. ITunes has so many complaints from developers that they’re starting their own app store, but you have to jailbreak your iPhone first. With this and other smart phones, you can also add VOIP calls to your phone and bypass the cell phone company altogether, as long as you’re within the range of a wireless access point you can connect to. There are all kinds of tools and applications that are not authorized, but people who bought the phone feel they are entitled to. What? You mean they pay for something and expect to feel like they own it and aren’t just renting it? That’s what most of the “jailbreakers” say about the experience. They feel as though they paid good money for something they don’t even control. And I think they’re right, but shhh! Don’t tell anyone I said that. The phone companies hear everything. Fortunately, the rumor is they can’t read.
For more great tips, check back here each week and listen to me on the All Tech Radio show at 9:00 Sunday mornings on AM 1360 KUIK and at 10:00 AM on KOL in Seattle, or listen online at http://alltechradio.com. If you would like your technical question answered here, just email email@example.com. Even if it doesn’t get answered in the column I will always answer by email.