Explainer: Jailbreak

The term “jailbreak” has been the subject of negativity from all of the major players in mobile. Jailbreak isn’t a new term or a mobile centric one either — Sony sued a hacker over jailbreaking the PS3 — but the jailbreak community continues to grow on the iPhone as 25 percent of all the devices out there are currently jailbroken.
What it Is: Jailbreaking is the process of attaining read/write access to the operating system of a device. In English, it completely opens up your phone for you to do whatever you like with it. Jailbreaking makes a closed device, like the iPhone, open, like Android devices. For the iPhone, there’s even a jailbroken app store with apps written specifically for jailbroken devices that allow you to take further advantage of your device. For example, there is an app that allows you to reply to an SMS without unlocking your phone or leaving the app you’re currently in. Jailbroken iPhones were first with multitasking, folders, copy and paste, multimedia messages and video recording.
Jailbreaking unlocks the doors to two other notable uses: carrier unlocking and piracy. The iPhone is only available via AT&T and Verizon, but a jailbroken phone could use another carrier. Piracy, the unfortunate downside to everything, but more notably to open platforms, will always be an issue. However, the jailbroken app store Cydia does its best to instill morals in its users by not providing direct access to apps that enable piracy and even reminding the user what they’re doing is wrong when they try to install an app that will enable it.
Why It Matters: It’s 25 percent of the iPhone and iPad market and growing. It is no longer illegal to jailbreak a device, but it does void the warranty. It can’t be thought of as a new platform or even a community, but all jailbroken devices automatically install the jailbroken app store Cydia. While more technical developers can install apps directly to the device, almost everyone uses Cydia. If you treat Cydia, the byproduct of jailbreaking a device, as an app, then it has a huge user base that spends considerable time in the app.
Who Is Doing It: This is for users who want more than what Apple is offering them, but it’s become more and more interesting to advertisers and brands. Toyota’s Scion has taken steps toward advertising to this audience with placements on the jailbreak community website, ModMyi.com. Whether this has traction or not will be hard to tell, but it is the closest to a positive nod that Cydia has received up to this point.
Assessment: It’s raw, uneasy, and not on Apple’s good side, but it does have a pretty large audience. Is it worth it to publicly pick a side against Apple? Depends on the size of your brand, but for most that’s probably not the case. It has a lot of potential, but it’s also been around since before the App Store and nobody has found a way to engage with that audience.
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