iPhone OS, from its very first version to the current 2.2.1, lacks certain features that many users typically expect in a smartphone. Jailbreaking arose largely to address those shortcomings. With iPhone OS 3.0, Apple has made the first of what will surely be many waves to come that will rock the jailbreak boat.
Having used beta developer builds of iPhone OS 3.0 for a few weeks now, I believe that the release of iPhone OS 3.0 will eliminate a large number of reasons for which users have jailbroken their iPhones.
Of the hundreds of enhancements jailbreaking can bring, the popular ones are, arguably, unlocking the iPhone to accept SIM cards worldwide, SMS management, MMS, Internet tethering, the built-in camera, the Lock Screen, UI theming, and cut, copy and paste. So how do the new features in iPhone OS 3.0 stack up against their jailbreak counterparts? Let’s take a look.
Unlocking the iPhone
For those of you whose iPhones are locked to your respective carrier, sorry, you’ll still have to jailbreak 3.0 in order to unlock your device.
With iPhone OS 3.0, you can finally forward text messages, delete individual text messages, and read and compose text messages in landscape mode, functionality that would otherwise require third-party apps such as BiteSMS, iRealSMS or MySMS. But there is one feature, available in both BiteSMS and MySMS, that I miss in 3.0: Quick Reply.
When a text message comes in, BiteSMS pops up a floating alert dialog box that lets you send a reply to that message without quitting whichever application is currently running. It’s a huge convenience, and elegant, to boot.
Some swear by it, while others think its absence is a non-issue. Personally, I stand somewhere in the middle. If I am on a shoot somewhere out on location, and I need to get a photo across to someone quickly, MMS can be really useful. While some might argue that emailing would serve the same purpose, many recipients would much prefer receiving an MMS for the simple fact that not all cell phones have e-mail clients as capable as that of the iPhone. And you’d be surprised at how many cell phone users still do not have a data plan for push e-email and the such.
Remember the days when you would tether your cell phone to your laptop via a data cable, Bluetooth, or, horror of horrors, infrared? My old 2G Nokia cell phone did it, even if it was a measly 14.4K connection, so it was quite an inconvenience not being able to use my iPhone as a modem.
Internet tethering via USB or Bluetooth is built into 3.0. I’m happy to report that it just works (for now). I no longer require apps such as PdaNet or iPhoneModem, some of which cost quite a fair bit to purchase. But, as built-in HSPDA connectivity becomes increasingly ubiquitous in laptops, Internet tethering in the iPhone will eventually become irrelevant.
This is the one area that has not been improved upon in 3.0. The native Camera app still does not offer manual controls such as burst mode, slow shutter, or EV override, things that I, as a photographer, would like to have. On the hardware side, I would love to have auto-focus, something my other cell phone, an old Sony Ericsson, does very well. A full-featured camera app such as Snapture is, hence, still a very attractive incentive for jailbreaking.
Then, there is video recording. Cycorder is what I miss in my now-stock iPhone 3G. I do believe it is inevitable that video recording will make its way into the iPhone. Rumors floating around the Internet seem to strongly indicate that it could be as soon as the next hardware revision of the iPhone we’ll see this June. When that happens, the last of what I feel are the three key ‘jailbreak-worthy’ aspects of iPhone OS — video, Bluetooth file transfers, and cut/copy/paste — will be solved, as far as I’m concerned.
All that screen real estate and nothing to show for it. Being a convert from Windows Mobile, which has a Today Screen that displays upcoming appointments and system notifications, the Lock Screen of iPhone OS is one area I really wish Apple would devote some attention to next. Of all the goodness I can get with jailbreaking, apps that enhance the Lock Screen are what I treasure most.
When I take a quick glance at the Lock Screen, I want to see information and not just album cover artwork or wallpaper. There is so much potential in what can go onto the Lock Screen. Calendar events, quick-dial for favorite contacts, detailed notifications for missed calls or incoming text messages, or even a preview of new mail — all of these are possible today on the jailbroken iPhone, courtesy of apps such as IntelliScreen and LockCalendar.
And, speaking of what I should see on the Lock Screen at a glance, I sorely miss Notifier, a Mobile Substrate hack that displays in the Date Bar notification icons for new mail, new messages, new IM messages, missed calls, and, especially useful, one for ringer mute.
The user interface plays such an important role in user experience that it is an area Apple will never relinquish control of. This is not a big deal for me, especially more so if it is at the expense of system responsiveness. But the sheer number of ugly themes created by users for WinterBoard, let alone those for other mobile platforms that freely allow theming, should be proof enough that it matters to some. On the iPhone, though, changing the wallpaper is still about as far as it goes…or Snow Leopard’s rumored ‘Marble’ interface at some point in 3.x. But full theming? Don’t hold your breath.
Cut, Copy and Paste
This is a big one. I still do not understand how some users can claim that the lack of cut, copy and paste is not a big deal to them. As someone who likes to write while commuting, the anemic ways in which iPhone OS 2.x lets me move bits of text around drove me to near insanity. Move a paragraph? Sorry, can’t do that. OK, how about something really simple, such as copying the name of a location from one Calendar event to another? Nope, no dice.
As I had stated in a previous post, cut, copy and paste in iPhone OS 3.0 addresses one of the biggest reasons I jailbroke my iPhone (and later, my iPod touch). Despite the best intentions behind jailbreak solutions such as hClipboard and Clippy, cut, copy and paste is really a low-level problem that only Apple can address satisfactorily, which it has in iPhone OS 3.0.
Going forward, I would love to see even more of what can be achieved only by jailbreaking in future versions of iPhone OS, namely enhancements to the Camera app and the Lockscreen. Even if there are no unannounced features hidden up Apple’s sleeve, and what we are seeing in the beta builds now is all there is, 3.x is clearly shaping up to be the first version of iPhone OS feature-rich enough that many users may no longer have a reason to continue jailbreaking their devices.
Will I jailbreak 3.0? I’m still on the fence. But, in using iPhone OS 3.0, the thought of sticking with a stock iPhone crossed my mind for the very first time, a thought that was simply unfathomable in the days of 2.x.