7 apps that make jailbreaking the iPhone (still) worth it

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30 Nov 2008 23:40

It looks like there are about 10 000 apps in the App Store now. But there are still a few very good reasons to jailbreak your iPhone. There are at least 7 applications that will never make it into the official App Store and available only through the jailbreaking process.

In the "old times" users of the firmware 1.x could only use either applications bundled by Apple (not too many, mostly Safari, Mail, Calendar, Calculator) or use "web apps" through the mobile Safari browser. Of course clever developers (hackers) found a way to install 3rd party apps on iPhones. It required the user to "jailbreak" the phone, often also combined with "unlocking" (making cellular network-independent). It is being estimated that about 10% of 1st generation iPhones were unlocked in the pre-3G era.

This all changed when Apple introduced App Store in July 2008. Since then users of 2.x firmware can get 3rd party applications without the need to modify the phone.

For many people hacking the phone does not make sense any more. Also many developers, previously making apps for jailbroken phones, now create software for the App Store. App Store, as the only official source of native (vs. web-based) 3rd party software, has many benefits for both developers and end users.

But it also places limitations, e.g. applications cannot mess with other applications' data, cannot run in background or cannot access some low-level APIs. Apple has strict approval policy and often denies applications from appearing in the Store.

For me, most of the applications I need are already in the Store. But there are just a few that are not and they alone make me jailbreak the iPhone. Just to be clear: the apps I list here are the ONLY jailbroken apps I am using. I try not to install any software that mess too much with the system. Reliability is for me much more important than customization so I do not care about changing themes, "better" management etc.

So… here is the list of apps that make jailbreaking the iPhone still worth it:

Terminal (and full Unix environment)

The best thing about jailbreaking is that it unleashes the full Unix environment in the phone. I greatly appreciate the Terminal's interface (you get CTRL or ALT modifiers by making finger gestures). Also you can do ssh, ftp, telnet or whatever from the Terminal. Cydia also provides a lot of Unix software, such as top, cvs, sudo, perl, python and many more that can help you convert your iPhone into a fully featured Unix box.

terminal1.png terminal2.png

As a part of the installation you can also get a ssh server for your iPhone which allows you to log-in into your iPhone from another computer. Comes handy since you do not need to use the virtual keyboard to put commands any more, just ssh into the phone and it works.

Let us say it clearly again: jailbreaking turns your iPhone into a computer. It is handy.

Obviously Apple would never allow this kind of application into the Store since it breaks almost all of the app guidelines. So jailbreaking is the only way to install it.

Scrobble

Scrobbling (i.e. sending your played songs to last.fm) is painful on the iPhone. Sure you can use the official Last.fm app (it is great) but if you want to scrobble the tunes you play using the iPod functionality, you can get really mixed results. Sometimes the desktop Last.fm application detects the played songs and offers you to scrobble them, but it does not always work.

What this little app does is that it scrobbles your songs live as you listen to them. No extra workflow, it just works.

scrobble1.png scrobble2.png

Again, Apple would not allow this kind of app in the App Store because apps are not allowed to run in background and probably cannot mess with the iPod functions.

StumblerPlus

A fully featured WiFi scanner. I am not sure how this one compares to those available in the App Store, but obviously it has one big advantage: it is free.

stumbler1.png stumbler2.png

PdaNet

A great, almost zero-configuration tethering solution for the iPhone. In a few easy steps you can now use your iPhone as a 3G modem (internet gateway) for your computer. Handy when you need to connect your laptop to the Internet, but no WiFi is available around.

pdanet1.png

In fact Apple does now (yet) allow such applications because AT&T does now allow tethering in the contracts with its customers. I have double-checked my own contract (with ERA in Poland) and it does not forbid me to use the phone as a modem, so I am a happy user of PdaNet now.

Cycorder

iPhone lacks video recording. This small application fixes this. As easy to use as the original photo app.

cycorder1.png cycorder2.png

Flashlight

This is pretty useful. The only thing this little app does is displaying a white rectangle (full-screen) and turning brightness to max setting. The difference between this and many other flashlight apps in the App Store is that regular applications are not allowed to modify brightness. This one uses as much power as the phone can provide and is really bright.

flashlight.png

Cydia

Cydia, based on Debian's APT, provides excellent management of added software with a very clean and sleek interface. Cydia is available by default when you jailbreak your phone and is de fact THE way to install software on the iPhone.

cydia1.png cydia4.png

A very cool thing about Cydia is that you can still access the well-know commands apt-get, apt-cache and other. Either through the Terminal or the ssh access.

As far as I can tell there are currently about 1500 packages available through Cydia by default, this includes software from my list too.


And… that is all. If those applications could be found in the App Store, I would never consider jailbreaking. But they probably never will because each one of them break application guidelines.

Jailbreaking voids the warranty and can impact the reliability of the device (although I have not noticed any side-effects). The process is a piece of cake with Pwnage or QuickPwn tools, but the results may vary and I went through at least a few restore processes.

I hope this helps. If you have any suggestions or other reasons why jailbreaking is worth it, please post your comment!


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