What Are the Pros and Cons of Using a Jailbroken Phone?

A jailbroken phone offers unparalleled customization and access to restricted apps, breathing new life into your device. However, it can compromise security, void warranties, and potentially lead to instability. With freedom comes risk—are you ready to navigate the trade-offs? Discover how to maximize benefits while mitigating downsides in our comprehensive guide. What will your choice be?
Rebecca Mecomber
Rebecca Mecomber

Jailbreaking is the process that allows users to modify the operating systems of Apple iPhone®, iPod®, and iPad® devices. A jailbroken phone or other device gives the user access to the root file system, which is otherwise forbidden by the native operating system. Access to the root opens up myriad opportunities to install third-party cell phone applications and to customize and control the graphic interface of the device. Jailbreaking is not without risks, however. It voids the manufacturer's warranty, makes the device susceptible to malicious applications, and brings with it the risk of ruining the device's file system.

The first iPhone® was released in 2007 and was hailed as a marvel of smart computing and cell phone technology. Independent-minded developers and geeks, however, chafed at the inherent limitations of the device. For example, Apple strictly manages applications, or apps, for the device and enforces various usage restrictions. The developers sought to take advantage of vulnerabilities in the operating system to allow them complete control over the device. The first jailbroken phone was created in July 2007, one month after the release of the first iPhone.

Jailbreaking an iPhone® gives the user access to the root files.
Jailbreaking an iPhone® gives the user access to the root files.

Jailbreaking a phone offers many benefits. The process grants the user complete access to the root file directory of the device, allowing him or her to manage files and make customizations within programs. The user also can modify the graphic interface, or the visual and functional applications for the device. These phones might also avoid expensive data roaming charges when visiting foreign countries, since the user can unlocks the phone, insert a pay-as-you-go Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card, and enjoy largely reduced cell phone rates.

An iPad® can be jailbroken.
An iPad® can be jailbroken.

The jailbroken phone or device can be loaded with third-party apps, even if they have not been approved by Apple, which has stringent and sometimes controversial standards of approval no matter how useful or popular an app might be. Owners of phones that have been jailbroken often feel that the devices are truly their own, rather than being maintained under the strict control of Apple. Jailbreaking does not modify the native hardware in the cell phone or electronic device, so it can be easily restored to the original operating system.

SIM cards for a jailbroken phone.
SIM cards for a jailbroken phone.

There are risks in jailbreaking a phone, however. The identity and intent of the developer of the jailbreaking software might be completely unknown, so it could ruin the device or unwittingly transmit personal data without permission, with no accountability or guarantee from the developer. Third-party applications that are poorly designed could drain the battery, cause device instability, or accidentally or purposely inject malicious software or spyware into the device. Jailbreaking voids the manufacturer warranty, so if the process goes wrong or the phone or electronic device is defective, it becomes essentially useless.

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Discussion Comments

@JaneAir - Yeah, these days even regular non-geeks can jailbreak their phone or other device. That is, if they want to take the time to figure out how to do it.

I also wanted to add that you can jailbreak e-book readers as well. I believe people call this "rooting" your e-reader, and it can allow you to install different software onto the reader. Some people do this with those e-reader tablets, to add more capabilities that didn't come with the tablet.

I think it's a cool idea, but I don't have any plans to jailbreak my iPhone or root my e-reader anytime soon.


I know a few people that have jailbroken their phones. It's actually not that hard to do, as long as you can follow directions. Even people who aren't very technologically savvy can usually manage to jailbreak a device, if that's what they want. The directions are all over the Internet, all you have to do is do a search!


@Pharoah - I remember when that case happened. I was really glad about the outcome, because I think it would be ridiculous to tell people what they can and can't do with their devices hardware and software once they get them.

Telling someone they can't jailbreak their phone would be like selling someone a computer and saying, "You can only put a certain operating system on this computer." That would be completely unheard of, and no one would stand for that. So why should cell phones be any different?


@kentuckycat - Actually, jailbreaking an iPhone is perfectly legal. There was actually a case about jailbreaking heard in the United States Federal court in 2010. The court decided that jailbreaking was completely legal, so anyone who wants to jailbreak their phone can do so without fear of legal ramifications.


@Emilski - Yes, there is a difference between jailbreaking a phone and getting one that has been unlocked. I have an unlocked phone and am not doing anything illegal. As mentioned before, jailbreaking is illegal because it alters the actual software and programming of a phone. An unlocked phone, on the other hand, is just not connected to any singular cell phone service provider.

Using an unlocked phone just means that you have to supply your own SIM card. In the United States, you can only use unlocked phones on the AT&T and T-mobile networks, because those are the only companies that have SIM cards. Companies like Verizon program specific phones for use on their networks.

Once you buy a plan from AT&T, for example, you will get a SIM card to put in your phone that will allow it to use their network. One advantage is mentioned in the article that you can use pay-as-you-go plans. The other is that you can switch between different phones, because it's as easy as taking out the SIM card and placing it in another phone.


@TreeMan - I have also heard the term brick used for phones, but didn't know what that meant.

iPhones aren't the only type of phones that can be jailbroken, though, are they? I know for a fact that one of my friends has a BlackBerry phone that he bought from somewhere overseas that was set up to run on a European or Asian network. Whenever he was buying it I brought up the question of whether it would work on the US networks. He said it would be fine, because it had been "unlocked." Is there a difference between a phone that is jailbroken and unlocked?


@matthewc23 - I am with you that jailbreaking a phone is just pointless and immature. I don't really know what apps people are putting on their phones. I would say a lot of them are things that are probably illegal and not allowed to be downloaded. The apps probably give them ways to hack into other phones or transmit certain signals. Using SIM cards in the phones to get different rates would also be illegal.

If I remember correctly, Apple has started putting software into its phones now that limit the capabilities of phones that have been jailbroken. For the iPhone 4, it took quite a while for someone to successfully hack into the phone. Even after someone had done it, if other people tried to do it and messed up one of the steps, it would completely lock their phone and stop it from working. They started to call these unsuccessfully hacked phones "bricks."


I think I understand jailbreaking a lot better now. I have always heard this term used, especially when a new iPhone came out, but I never really knew what it meant.

With that being said, I still don't know why anyone would want to do it. The article mentions being able to use different apps and modify the directories, but why not just use the phone how it was made? I have an iPhone, and there are literally thousands and thousands of apps that you can buy to do about anything you could possibly think of. What else could these people possibly want to put on the phones?

As far as modifying the phones to use different SIM cards, that just sounds like stealing service. Wouldn't it be illegal to do what the article is talking about?

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      Jailbreaking an iPhone® gives the user access to the root files.
    • An iPad® can be jailbroken.
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