Apple Has Won: Why I No Longer Jailbreak My iPhone

(and want an Android instead)

Written by Leo N.

Dear Apple;

How are you? I'm okay. A little disappointed with you, to be honest, but I'm not sure if I have the right to be. It's kind of silly, but what you do bothered me quite a bit. Let me explain.

A few nights ago I was out with a friend, using my iPhone as a WIFI hot spot in order to share my Internet access with our respective laptops. I don't know if you can understand this, but we felt tremendously empowered that we could pick any place to drink something hot and steamy instead of a Starbucks with its reliable but expensive WIFI connection. We went to a small, very quiet teashop and got quite a bit of brainstorming done.

I hear what you're saying Apple: you can't tether from your iPhone, never mind turn it into a WIFI access point! Well, I am--sorry, I mean, was--the proud owner of a jail-broken iPhone. I didn't just buy my apps from the Apple Store. I also bought them from Rock. Some of these apps added desperately needed functionality to this phone, which in turn turned it into something very useful, practical and convenient. This phone made me very happy, which is quite a leap from any other phone I've owned previously.

If my jail-broken iPhone 3G was a girl, she would look like this.

A few nights later, however, my phone crashed. This is no surprise: iPhones do that from time to time, jail-broken or not. The excuse online is that "it's just a smaller computer, what do you expect?" What do I expect? It's the 21st Century! I expect my phone not to crash and kill all my data, for one. We have, in part, companies like Microsoft to blame for this: being such a common operating system, the concept of a crash is considered a de-facto standard. We now have come to accept this irrational behaviour from our electronic equipment as the norm. Imagine if your car stalled every ten kilometres, killed one of the passengers in the process, you had to roll down and back up all the windows before you could start the engine again and you were okay with that.

I digress. In general, whenever you iPhone crashes, you can just reboot it back to normality.

But not that night.

This time, when I did a hard-restart, it got stuck in the well-documented online issue of the never-ending reboot cycle. I tried every trick in the hat to get it to return to a sane operating state, to no avail.

When it became obvious that iTunes was the way to go, I rebooted my laptop from Ubuntu to Windows and tried to make it work. I was wary about it because the latest iPhone firmware from Apple patched up the security hole that allowed jail-breaking in the first place, so I purposely kept my computer offline. Guess what? iTunes only works with an Internet connection, probably aware that I was trying to prevent it from installing the latest firmware. It insisted on being online and as soon as I was, it began downloading the latest firmware. I stopped it and tried installing the older firmware that could be jail-broken, but iTunes helpfully told me that this was not the correct iPhone firmware. The night went on, endlessly, with my many attempts skilfully blocked by Apple. It was like playing chess with Steve Jobs himself, and losing.

Steve Jobs.

In the end, I was tired, and around 2 AM, Apple won. The latest firmware was installed. The phone demanded I activate it with my original SIM before I could use it, which I no longer have. With jail-breakers waiting for iPhone OS 4.0, at the time of writing there were currently no hacks or exploits to activate, jailbreak and unlock my phone. Even if I had my old SIM card lying around to activate the phone, it remains locked to a single carrier, preventing me from inserting a third party SIM like I had been doing all this time. My phone was a shiny, beautiful paperweight. This is not just stupid, Apple: this is evil. This is punishing the end user for doing something different than what you think.

As I didn't have time right away to go and get a SIM card from the provider this phone is locked for, I pulled out my old flip-phone from Europe, slapped in my current SIM and that old thing just worked. It didn't care who I was with, it just cared that I had a provider. Despite the convenience of having a working phone, it made me angry that this was even possible.

I understand that you feel that you have the right to tell us how to use equipment that we buy and who to use it with: I mean, you made it. But here's a shocking counter-argument: we bought it. It's ours. We should be able to do what we please with it. And if we breaks it and void the warranty, that's entirely our fault. Remember your 1984 commercial when you announced the Macintosh, which was different from the norm? Remember drilling that message in our heads?

Firmware 3.1.3 coming to get me.

Unfortunately, my dear Apple, you don't seem to follow what you preach. If you sold houses, you'd force me to buy all my furniture from IKEA and paint all my walls Apple white. If I tried to change that, you'd throw out all my third-party furniture and repaint my walls the colour you deemed appropriate, all the while giving me the excuse that you're fixing the thermostat. If you were a radio, I could only listen to six preset stations. If you were a car, I could never mount my own fog-lights or a spoiler or change my rims to something cooler. You're a hypocrite.

I understand that the iPhone, just like its big brother the iPad, are nothing more than content delivery managers disguised as neat toys meant to make us more prone to consuming your products. That's fine; you're here to make a profit. But at least give me the illusion that I can alter a few things and do them differently. You know what I miss the most about my jail-broken iPhone? It wasn't the fact that I could record video on a 3G or that I already had the ability to multi-task. It wasn't the neat tools I had at my disposal that made turning on and off wireless and Bluetooth so easy. It wasn't even the fact that the only way to make the iPhone work with Ubuntu required me to jailbreak it so that I could access it via SSH. None of that. What I miss is that I could make the phone look the way I wanted it to look:

Nice! This is what a jail-broken iPhone looks like...

...and now it looks just like everyone else's iPhone--YAWN.

I jail-broke my phone so that I could customize your content delivery manager to give it a personality that suited me. I went out of my way to alter my ring-tones and sounds with those of my favourite television show. Instead of that boring black background, I had a lovely wallpaper paying a compliment to all those shiny icons. And yet, I still consumed and paid for your offerings. But I did it with a smile, because my iPhone was a little extension of me. Shame on you, Apple, for telling me to "Think Differently" and when I did, taking it all away from me.

Your customer. Your bread and butter.

In a way, you've won. I realize now that every app I bought from you was a novelty I used once or twice. What games I did purchase, I used them while taking a crap on the toilet. Most things stayed untouched once I tried them a few times. In most cases, using what you offered tended to kill the battery of the iPhone so fast, that even just listening to music was a careful act of power management. In the end, what I did use the most were the phone, text, browser and e-mail apps. I am not going to jailbreak my phone again and I am just going to use it exactly for what it is: a fancy, glossy, shiny but very limited phone made by a company that thinks it still owns it.

That's pretty close to how people react when they see Google's Nexus One in action.

You've lost my love, my respect and my admiration for what you had to offer. But most importantly, since you only think in dollar figures, you've lost me as a paying customer.

Goodbye, Apple.

Yours truly,
Leo N.