Unlocking vs Jailbreaking iPhone
In the world of iPhone modification, “jailbreaking” and “unlocking” are often used interchangeably, even though they have quite different meanings. Although either process poses inherent risks, and may void your Apple warranty, knowing what each term means can help you make the right choice for your individual needs.
Unlocking your iPhone allows it to operate on multiple carriers, in addition to the carrier it was originally designed for. There are many reasons why unlocking may be desirable, even necessary. Switching to another carrier, traveling overseas, increasing the value of the phone for resell and using an iPhone on an “unsupported” carrier are just a few reasons to unlock.
As of this writing, there are a number of software and hardware hacks available to facilitate the unlock. As of late 2011, there is even a method to unlock an iPhone 4S requiring no software or hacks of any kind.
Although jailbreaking sometimes includes unlocking, it goes far beyond simple unlocking, actually modifying the behavior of the iPhones operating system (iOS). This can be an appealing option for those who want features and abilities that iOS does not natively provide. Even though iOS 5 helped close the feature gap, and in some cases eliminate the need to jailbreak to achieve a given feature, there are still many things Apple is unlikely to ever officially support. Unsanctioned tethering, third-party (as in not from the Apple App Store) applications, game console emulation software, free turn-by-turn GPS, native file management, video recording on older devices and Bluetooth file transfer are just a sampling of the features available on jailbroken iPhones.
Although, in the past, these procedures may have been legally questionable, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was recently modified to grant an exemption for the practice of bypassing digital protections for the purpose of installing unapproved software, otherwise known as jailbreaking. While this is still a far cry from an Apple approved solution, at least the DMCA cannot be used to prosecute an individual solely for modifying their phone.
Just because modifying your iPhone may be legal does not mean it is entirely free from risk. By it’s very nature, unlocking and jailbreaking are modifying the iPhone’s software to work in a way Apple, and certainly the carrier, may not have intended. Although much progress has been made to enable these modifications to be implemented more safely, there is always an inherent risk. Always back up your iPhone before attempting either of these modifications.