iOS 8 and the future of jailbreaking

Cydia running iPhone 5s

It seems to be a recurring topic every year when Apple unveils a new version of iOS: did iOS 5 just kill jailbreaking? Will jailbreaking survive iOS 6? What’s left to jailbreakers with iOS 7? Did iOS 8 just make jailbreaking irrelevant?

These are some legitimate questions to ask, especially in regards to the fact that Apple, as you would expect, always adds new features to iOS, making jailbreaking a little less appealing. At least that’s how it looks on paper, because in reality, it’s not so clear.

A few major online publications have already chimed in about how iOS 8 is making jailbreaking pointless, usually with no real understanding of what jailbreaking truly is about. So I thought it’d be a good idea to lay down some balanced thoughts about iOS 8 and the future of jailbreaking…

What I am about to share here relies exclusively on the ability to have a jailbreak to begin with, but this is not so much what I want to focus on. My goal is to look at the future of the jailbreak community as a whole, rather than the technical act of jailbreaking. In a sense, what I’m about to talk about would be completely irrelevant if no jailbreak for iOS 8 was released, which I guess would be surprising, though not completely impossible.

The ongoing cat and mouse game

Jailbreaking is a way to break down the walls erected by Apple around its software, allowing you to have complete control over the software running on the device. It lets you install third party extensions or applications that Apple wouldn’t otherwise allow in its App Store, usually greatly improving the functions of the device.

Apple’s stance on jailbreaking is actually quite strong. If you buy an iPhone and jailbreak your device, you effectively give up the right to receive support for this device under the warranty agreement. Mind you, if you really need support, you can always restore your device and take it to the nearest Apple Store where no one will ever be able to tell it was jailbroken just hours ago.

Apple and the jailbreak community have played this cat and mouse game ever since iPhoneOS 1 was released back in 2007. The scenario is always the same: Apple releases a new version of iOS, an individual or a group of individuals find a vulnerability, exploit it, and turn it into a jailbreaking tool that gets released to the public. Then of course, Apple releases a software update that plugs these exploits, hackers find new ones, lather, rinse, repeat. This is something we’ve come to expect and accept. It’s just the way it is.

It’s not necessarily because Apple doesn’t like jailbreaking. It is because Apple wants to provide the safest and most cohesive experience to its users. If they did allow you to jailbreak your device, then they wouldn’t be able to provide this same experience across the board, and to be fair, it would also likely open the doors to many more malware targeting iOS devices. You can’t blame Apple for that. This is a decision that makes sense to them, and to be honest, it makes sense to me too. In short, don’t take it personally. It’s just business.

Getting inspired

Historically, Apple has been largely drawing inspiration from the jailbreak community. Many features were available as jailbreak extensions long before they were released to the public by Apple. Take copy/pasting for example. Or widgets. Or Quick Reply. These are all major features that were available to jailbreakers before everybody else.

The reason behind this is that the jailbreaking community is usually quick at creating and shipping software, and most importantly, it can do so without much consequences. When Apple releases copy/paste, it can’t afford to do it wrong. It must get it right the first time, which is why it takes so long. Apple must get it right the first time because if it doesn’t, and then decides to change the way a feature works, users get confused, which creates a bad experience. The same can be said with just about every new feature Apple adds to iOS, whether it is inspired from the jailbreak community or not.

If anything, jailbreaking provides a test ground for Apple to see what users want and how it could be implemented. You can be mad at Apple for taking inspiration without crediting, but you can’t be mad at them for implementing features that everybody will benefit from. Once again, it’s just business.

Opening up

The question about the relevancy of jailbreaking has never been more relevant than today though. If you’ve watched the WWDC 2014 keynote, or if you’ve read about it, then you know Apple is stepping into new territory by being more open, and giving developers more rope to do more things with their apps.

The introduction of widgets, extensions, and third party keyboards is definitely a major shift for Apple, and arguably one that is necessary if it wants to keep developers happy — which in turn will make its platform more relevant in the future. These features are just the most obvious ones, as Apple is opening up under the hood too, with a new Touch ID API and a way for developers to have apps communicate between each other while maintaining the same level of security.

These are the kind of features that the jailbreaking community has been enjoying for a while, and again, these are the kind of features that make sense for Apple to implement if it wants to make iOS better and better every year.

But at the end of the day, the new features offered by Apple in iOS 8 are still fairly limited and likely aren’t enticing enough for most jailbreakers to give up the complete freedom they’ve become used to enjoying. It sure is nice to now have widgets, or a few extensions, but this is still far from all the features jailbreaking can offer.

What if you want widgets on your Lock screen? Or on your Home screen? What if you want to rearrange the elements of Control Center? What if you just want to completely change the way your iOS device looks? iOS 8 won’t give that to you quite yet.

A community that reinvents itself

Despite the fact that Apple is opening up, I believe it will have no major effect on jailbreaking. Of course, some users will give up jailbreaking altogether because they won’t see the need for it anymore. This is to be expected, but again, probably won’t have a big impact on the community as a whole.

People who jailbreak usually do so for more than being able to install a widget or a simple extension. People who jailbreak their devices usually want much more control over the experience. They want to be able to customize their device to their liking, but also add extensions that Apple still won’t allow such as Quick Compose for text messages, or simple gestures to automate certain tasks.

If anything, I believe iOS 8 will make the jailbreak community even stronger because it will allow jailbreak developers to do build on top of what Apple has added. That is actually something I’ve always found remarkable about the jailbreaking community: it keeps reinventing itself. The reason for this is that jailbreaking is open by default. It is open to new ideas, to new experiments. It’s not afraid of developing new features because it has nothing to lose in doing so, and again, it is much faster and adaptable than Apple.

Take widgets for example, which can only be used in Notification Center. This is a pretty big limitation that I know I would want to go around if given the opportunity. It’s safe to assume that once a jailbreak is available for iOS 8, we’ll see developers bring these widgets to more places, such as the Lock screen or even the Home screen. This is a perfect example of the jailbreak community building on top of iOS 8.

The truth is, no matter what Apple does, there is always going to be room for improvement. There is always going to be people who want things their way, and there will always be people to develop new ways to do things.

As a jailbreak user, I am very excited to see what the jailbreak community comes up with. As iOS brings in new features and provides an even better experience, so will the tweaks developed by the jailbreak community.

I’m very interested to hear what you think about this, so please feel free to share them in the comments section below.