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What is a Jailbroken Phone?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A jailbroken phone is typically an iPhone® modified to let the user install applications that are not released through Apple®'s "App Store." The term “jailbroken” can also be used to refer to iPods and other devices that have been modified for similar reasons. This practice is not condoned by Apple®, which regards it as copyright violation, and it voids the warranty on the phone; if the phone is damaged or the software is corrupted, then the user has no recourse through Apple®. As of 2012, the practice of "jailbreaking" a phone is not illegal, and a number of companies and programs provide jailbreaking as a service.

Purpose and Functionality

Jailbreaking is not the same thing as unlocking a phone. When a phone is unlocked, it means that it can work on any mobile network. A jailbroken phone, on the other hand, specifically lets the user install applications from sources outside the App Store. It is typically a software modification that does not physically alter the hardware of the phone, and can be done by downloading jailbreak software.

Process for Jailbreaking

iPhone® owners can use numerous online guides to produce a jailbroken phone, with varying degrees of reliability. People who are not experienced may encounter problems following such guides, and they could damage their devices and render them unusable. The process for jailbreaking varies depending on which version of the phone someone owns and the software version installed onto it, making it important that a user reads the instructions thoroughly before starting. Mistakes made while jailbreaking a product can corrupt the software on it and make it impossible to use without repairing the issue.

Negative Consequences

Sites providing information about iPhone® hacks, such as those that produce a jailbroken phone, usually come with extensive disclaimers warning users that they proceed at their own risk. Users typically cannot take a jailbroken phone into an official Apple® store for service or repairs, and they may have difficulty updating the software on such a device. Those who lack expertise in this area may want to avoid trying to jailbreak their phone or other devices, to ensure ongoing service. While Apple® considers jailbreaking a violation of copyrights on the phone software, it is not illegal in the US and many other countries and only violates Apple®'s warranty for service and repair.


Almost as soon as the iPhone® was released, Apple® was criticized for forcing users to go through their App Store to access applications, and for restricting applications available through it. Apple®'s defense of the store was that it ensured all applications loaded by users onto iPhone®s were safe for use, reducing the risk of spreading viruses or corrupting the software. Critics pointed out that applications that rivaled Apple®'s products were not available, even though many were safe for use, while some critics simply disliked the idea of being told what they could and could not download. As a result, shortly after the iPhone®'s release, people were jailbreaking their devices and providing information to others who want a jailbroken phone.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a EasyTechJunkie researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon319353 — On Feb 12, 2013

@bookworm 11: It is actually more likely that users would be viewing this content on webkit not firefox. (webkit is the (open source) core of many browsers, the largest of which would be Chrome and Safari).

By anon220439 — On Oct 07, 2011

Remember the Betamax? Apple should take heed.

By bookworm11 — On Jul 12, 2010

@techgeek1: I think the point that CoffeeJim is trying to make is that Apple would sell more of its iPods and iPhones if it had less restrictive software measures in place. The open-source software community is an incredibly powerful resource that Apple has failed to tap. If Apple gave better access to its OS, I think you would find much better software being released for the iPhone, and most of it would be free.

Don't believe me? Chances are you're probably viewing this page using Firefox-- an open source, community developed web browser that has gained significant popularity over Internet Explorer. Think of what the open-source community could do with full access to the iPhone OS.

By techgeek1 — On Jul 11, 2010

@CoffeeJim - While I understand your frustrations, we must remember that Apple is a company. Like any other company, they have to push up profit margins anyway they can.

Putting proprietary limitations in the operating system is an easy way to accomplish this and will deter most consumers from doing too much fiddling. I don't think we can hold anything against the company for doing this, but I also don't feel bad about jail breaking an expensive piece of hardware I've purchased so that I can get the most out of it.

Jail breaking is relatively easy to do and there are plenty of third party services that will do it for a reasonable price if you do not feel comfortable performing the procedure yourself.

By CoffeeJim — On Jul 11, 2010

I wish Apple would open up their iPhone platform and OS in a more free manner. Hackers and the like would not have the desire to "jailbreak" these phones if the systems were able to be tweaked more freely.

In the end it is a way for Apple to control the way that you use hardware that you have purchased. I think we should have freedom to do with the hardware as we please.

It would also stir further innovation and more outside-of-the-box thinking that could lead Apple to become even more popular and accepted by all kinds of the market share of consumers.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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