At least once a week, every week, for the last 5 years get this question from our customers in some way, shape, or form. There is a certain mystique to the terms "jailbreak"... "unlock"... "root" - and they have somewhat taken on a sort of omnipotent interpretation in our industry's vocabulary. Let's take a look behind the scenes, dispel some myths, and hopefully set the record straight on exactly what these words mean!
First off, some definitions are in order:
JAILBREAK and ROOT both mean essentially the same thing. In both cases, you gain what is called root access to the operating system. This allows you to make changes to the most basic functions, settings, and options which control how the device operates. These settings are made inaccessible by default usually because they can cause catastrophic malfunctions if used improperly. Jailbreak is the term we use for iOS devices, and Root is the term most commonly used for Androids.
UNLOCK means the device is no longer restricted to the carrier service it was initially designed for. This only works between carriers whose infrastructure is compatible with the device's hardware. For example, AT&T and T-Mobile both use a network type called GSM. Sprint and Verizon primarily use a CDMA network. An unlocked phone that is only designed to work on a GSM network cannot be used on a CDMA network, and vice-versa. LTE becoming the widely adopted data network for all carriers (in the US at least) has led to the production of many phones compatible with all of these network types, making most newer phones considerably more versatile.
Cool Story. Why would I want to do that?
We'll start with unlocking since it's a much more straightforward answer. Say you are planning to travel out-of-country soon, and want to bring your phone with you. You could just leave it locked to your current network, but in order to connect internationally you'll be facing hefty roaming charges. Having your phone unlocked will give you the option to buy a cheap pre-paid SIM card in each country you visit, freeing up finances for more important things on your trip. Another widespread use for unlocking is to jump between carriers at will. It also adds value when selling your phone, since you'll have a larger group of potential buyers.
The benefits of Jailbreaking and rooting are a little less obvious for the mainstream user. A jailbroken iPhone or iPad gains access to certain 3rd party apps which can perform any number of useful (or harmful) functions. Popular uses are for torrenting or streaming pirated material, enabling Wi-Fi tethering without a purchasing special plan from your carrier, or simply changing the look & feel of your iOS experience through fonts, icons, colors, and other themes. Android devices can do almost all of that without root access (except the free tethering) so the most popular reason people root their phones is to install custom firmware ROMs. These are usually optimized for an overall better user experience by removing bloatware (factory-installed apps that are not vital to the function of the phone) and improving battery life.
Unlocking is basically awesome and you should do it if possible. The only major (and it is MAJOR) problem you can run into is if you have it performed by someone who is re-flashing your device's IMEI to achieve an unlocked status. Flashing the IMEI is illegal because you are changing the registered ID of the device; donor IMEIs used for flashing are most often obtained from stolen phones. Stay away from shady, cheap, unlocking websites and services offered by such individuals. At the time of this posting, the safest and best way to have your device unlocked is by its original service provider. Each carrier has their own procedure for this, and information is usually accessible through their customer service phone number.
Jailbreaking/Rooting can cause more problems than they are worth if you don't know what you're doing. The most common issue caused is complete data loss and/or failure of the device's most basic operation. Ever heard someone say their phone is "bricked"? That's what this means, aptly so because when this happens your once-valuable handheld computer is now every bit as useful as a paperweight. It's not all doom & gloom though - plenty of people operate their jailbroken/rooted devices without any problems whatsoever - you just have to know what you're doing. The rule of thumb here is if you don't know exactly WHY you need to jailbreak or root your phone, then you don't need to do it.
We talked about how these terms have taken on a somewhat mythical life of their own. They seem to be used interchangeably in a way that only pales in comparison to "computer hacking". Here are some common misconceptions, explained and dismissed:
Jailbreaking can bypass security measures like passcodes, iCloud, and encryption = false
Even the FBI and NSA have been lighting Apple up lately about how hard it is to get past their security measures - - insisting there must be a backdoor, or other means of accessing a locked device. If you forgot your passcode or Apple ID, the only way you're getting back into the device is by remembering your passcode. If you put it in wrong too many times, many devices are configured to wipe personal data automatically. There is nothing a "hacker" can do to get into your device if it's been lost, stolen, or otherwise attempted access without your permission. The only exception here is if they gain access to it while it is not locked. It is possible to install monitoring and tracking programs which run silently in the background, but only when the device is already fully accessible.
Unlocking my phone will get me out of having to pay my past-due balance = false
Even if you are able to get your phone unlocked, if you haven't squared up with your previous carrier they can (and will, eventually) blacklist your device's IMEI. Most carriers share a blacklist, because they don't want to take on a customer who is known to skip out on paying the bill.
If I jailbreak/root my device, I can get free stuff = true, but watch it!
There are lots of ways to get unlicensed/pirated apps, movies, music and other content. However, there are lots of ways for those unauthorized transfers to be monitored. If you choose to live on the wild side just remember there are negative consequences if (when) you get caught.
Jailbreaking is illegal! = false
When the first iPhone was jailbroken, Apple sued and pressed criminal charges against the kid who figured it out. The courts decided in the defendant's favor, determining that the device and software, although designed by Apple, are the sole property of the consumer. The same thing happened between Sony and the first person to jailbreak their Playstation. Bottom line is YOU own the device and can modify it however the heck you want. Woohoo!
If you can get your phone unlocked in a legitimate fashion, go for it. You'll open up a whole new world (literally) of service options, and if you want to sell it you'll get more money when you do.
If you have a specific reason to jailbreak or root your device, and have verified that the solution is available once this task has been performed, go for it! If you're a do-it-yourself-er there are multitudes of free resources available (some good ones are linked at the end of this article). Don't ever pay for jailbreaking software! It's always been provided to the public free of charge, and hopefully always will be. If you want your device jailbroken or rooted and don't want to do it on your own, stop by any PhoneDoc and we'll sort it out for you. We do charge for this service in order to cover our time & labor. We'll tell you the same thing in the shop - this is something you can (and truly should) do yourself if you're interested!
Want to read more about it? Here are some helpful links:
Like this post? Hate it? Have more questions about jailbreaking, rooting, or unlocking? Let us know here!
Phonedoc specializes in rapid, professional service providing iPhone Repair, iPad Repair, Android repairs in Mandeville & Baton Rouge LA