The Difference Between Jailbreaking and Unlocking

Unlocked-iPhone 4S

There is a lot of confusion among noobies about jailbreaking and unlocking. One of our readers recently asked for a clear “non geeky” definition of both terms.

If you already know the difference between jailbreaking and unlocking, this article might not be very helpful to you but you may still be able to give us some insights or maybe add your comments and suggestions. If you don’t know what jailbreaking or unlocking means, then read on because you’re just about to get a crash course on iPhone hacking.

What’s the difference in a nutshell?

The difference between jailbreak and unlock is that jailbreaking allows you to gain access to files on your device that Apple wouldn’t normally let you access, while unlocking is the removal of carrier restrictions allowing you to use your iPhone on any carrier. These are two very different things which we will explain in more details below.

What is Jailbreaking?

Definition of Jailbreaking

Jailbreaking is the process by which an iPhone firmware is modified to allow unsigned code to be run to gain access to files that Apple wouldn’t normally let you access. Jailbreaking adds unofficial application installers to your iPhone such as Cydia or Icy (I personally only use Cydia), which let you download many 3rd-party applications previously unavailable through the App Store.

Is Jailbreaking Legal?

Update: Jailbreaking is now officially legal in the US

Yes and no. The legality of jailbreaking is very unclear. Most iPhone owners including myself think that since we own the iPhone, we should be able to do whatever we want with it.

Apple’s lawyers think differently as they consider jailbreaking to be a violation of copyright. I had a phone conversation with Apple’s copyright attorney about a year ago and he admitted to me that they are not capable of going after every jailbreaker out there… To these days, I don’t think anyone has had legal issues with Apple due to jailbreaking.

Why Jailbreak Your iPhone

Jailbreaking lets you install applications that are not approved by Apple. Many of these applications can be very helpful but they will unfortunately never make it to the App Store due to Apple’s restrictions. There are many reasons why you would want to jailbreak your iPhone:

  • install 3rd party applications rejected by Apple for various reasons (ie. nudity)
  • video recording (now available on the iPhone 3GS)
  • changing the look and feel by installing custom graphics and themes
  • free tethering
  • get access to cracked App Store apps for free (not endorsed by me, but still worth noting)
  • be able to unlock your iPhone

Why Not Jailbreak Your iPhone

I can only think of one reason why you wouldn’t want to jailbreak. Jailbreaking your iPhone automatically voids the warranty. This is not really a problem as you can always restore your iPhone in iTunes, putting it back to its factory settings. This will make it impossible for Apple to see you jailbroke your iPhone, thus not voiding your warranty.

In the past, some jailbreak methods were not very stable and sometimes turned your iPhone into an iBrick aka an expensive paper weight. Jailbreak methods are now very stable and I have yet to hear about someone bricking his iPhone while jailbreaking. In other words, jailbreaking is safe!

How Do I Jailbreak My iPhone?

I wrote many tutorials on how to jailbreak your iPhone, depending on what iPhone and what firmware you have. Check them out, follow the instructions, and have fun. You don’t need to have a PhD in computer science to jailbreak your iPhone. It’s very simple and straightforward. If you can download 2 files and click “next” when prompted, then you can jailbreak your iPhone.

What If Something Goes Wrong?

It’s very unlikely that something will go wrong… If you have a problem, simply plug your iPhone to your computer, launch iTunes, and click “restore”. As I mentioned above, it will restore your iPhone to factory settings.

Why Are You Still Reading This?

What? You’re still aren’t sure about this whole jailbreak thing? You’re missing out big time. An unjailbroken iPhone is a plain boring iPhone! Jailbreaking is the best thing that has happened to my iPhone and I seriously can’t live without it.

What Is Unlocking?

Definition of Unlocking

Unlocking is the removal of SIM restrictions on the modem, allowing the use of the iPhone on any carrier. There are 2 types of iPhone unlocks:

  • software unlock: the iPhone is unlocked by a software
  • hardware unlock: modification have to be made to the actual hardware to unlock the phone

Software unlocks are safer because they do not modify your device and can easily be reverted back. Soft unlocks are mostly developed for free by the Dev Team, an international group of iPhone hackers. Hardware unlocks are a little tricky and usually cost money. In clear, if you want to unlock your iPhone, you can do it for free by with a safe software unlock.

Is Unlocking Legal?

According to Wikipedia, “unlocking a phone without the permission or unlocking code from the provider is usually in breach of the agreement with the provider, though most countries do not make specific laws prohibiting the removal of SIM locks. In the United States the DMCA formerly was claimed to criminalize unlocking. However, an exemption that took effect 27 November 2006 specifically permits it.”

Why Unlock Your iPhone

The main reason to unlock your iPhone is if you want to use it with a different service provider (ie T-Mobile). An unlocked iPhone also has a better resell value.

Why Not Unlock Your iPhone

If you’re good with your phone carrier and will not use your iPhone internationally, there is absolutely no reason for you to unlock your iPhone.

How Do I Unlock My iPhone?

Before unlocking your iPhone, you will have to jailbreak it. The unlock can either be done from a computer, or directly from the iPhone. Check out my iPhone unlock tutorials for step by step instructions.

What If Something Goes Wrong?

Although unlocks can sometimes mess up your settings a little bit, they are constantly improved to fix errors and bugs. If something goes wrong, you can always restore your iPhone to factory settings.

In Short…

I case you’re still not really sure you understand the difference between jailbreaking and unlocking, let me put it in very simple words. Jailbreaking an iPhone means that 3rd party applications can be installed on it (ie. apps from other developers than Apple). Unlocking an iPhone means that any SIM card can be used on it.

If you have questions or anything you want to say, feel free to leave a comment below or start a new conversation in the forum.