Apple is stepping up its battle against iPhone jailbreakers with an updated version of its mobile operating system and the pursuit of a patent. But in all likelihood, the folks in Cupertino are pouring resources into a battle they shouldn’t be fighting at all.


The Register reported last week that Apple is looking to fire back at iPhone jailbreakers with an application to patent a system designed to identify the “hacking, jailbreaking, unlocking or removal of a SIM card” from a phone so the device can be located and its data erased. The company has released a new firmware update for the sole purpose of patching a hole that was being used to jailbreak handsets running iOS 4 as well, according to the group of developers that created the first iPhone 4 jailbreak.

As I write in my weekly column over at GigaOM Pro, it makes no sense for Apple to pour efforts to these kinds of things; allowing jailbreaking — even implicitly — could actually help move iPhones off the shelves.

Sure, jailbreaking gives iPhone users access to a growing number of apps not supported by the App Store (tethering apps and porn among them), but even then, there’s no downside for Apple. Any tethering usage would be mitigated by AT&T’s metered data plans, so it’s not like users could truly abuse them. Also, when it comes to porn and anything else users could access, Apple can simply say, “We don’t support that garbage,” maintain its policy that jailbreaking automatically voids warranties and remain unsoiled in the public eye.

Revenues from the App Store are a drop in the bucket compared to Apple’s overall bottom line. The company uses the retail channel as a tool to boost sales from its lucrative hardware business. Apple sells DRM-free tunes and allows users to put their existing music libraries on the company’s devices because those strategies are good for gadget sales, where the money lies. So, like iTunes, why invest in efforts that restrict users to running only Apple-approved apps on their handsets and tablets?

At the end of the day, the iPhone Dev Team may have given up (for now), but other hackers will surely find ways around Apple’s efforts to prevent jailbreaking.

Read the full post here.

Image courtesy Flickr user Rennett Stowe.

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  1. Except… ignorant users may not be aware of stability and insecurity issues they introduce to their devices. Additionally, I hear many jailbreak to steal official apps. I’m sure both Apple and developers have financial incentive to stop that behavior.

    “for the sole purpose of patching a hole”

    Yeah, that was a vulnerability that could have be exploited for more nefarious purposes. So I agree the sole purpose was to patch a hole… but the sole purpose was not to prohibit jailbreaking. (Although this has been by far the easiest way to jailbreak and I haven’t yet plugged my hole.)

  2. yeah and that PDF exploit they found didn’t need to be fixed.

    Just because Apple files a patent doesn’t mean they do anything. They only fix massive exploits that are found that was used. THat PDF bug was an ugly one, and should have been fixed like they did.

  3. Like Big Dave says… It’s not only about approved apps. It’s about an image! If a users installs an unauthorized app, it can slow down the phone or even cause it to crash. The lack of stability and chance of virus/malware can give the iPhone a bad image and in the end it will affect the sale numbers.

    And in the same way the music industry is fighting pirates for illegal music sharing, Apple fights the jailbreakers for their illegal app sharing, The free app sharing makes the app store less interesting for the developers and in the end it damages both the developer and Apples income.
    There is no positive thing in jailbreaking for Apple.

    (Sorry for the bad english)

    1. Slow it down? Give it a bad image? Oh you mean like the iOS4 update did to 3G users? That was 2 months ago and Apple doesn’t seem to care about that too much.

      1. First, try a restore in iTunes and DO NOT use your backup. It may also help to rebuild your iTunes Library file before that process.

        Second, you’re running brand new software on two-year old hardware. It won’t be as fast as it is on new hardware. Deal with it, or buy that Verizon android phone. Not all users are having issues with iOS 4 on iPhone 3G, but Apple has still said they were looking into a fix. (see http://www.macrumors.com/2010/08/20/jobs-software-update-to-address-ios-4-performance-issues-on-iphone-3g-coming-soon/) Fixing a vulnerability is easier than system-wide performance optimization which is what iOS 4 needs to fit on the tiny RAM footprint available to the 3G. I think in that hardware, Apple failed to see the extent of the vision. More RAM would have fixed this problem, but now they’re having to undo other features (which you probably won’t notice, unlike home screen backgrounds and multitasking) to make things snappy and smooth again. If you’re complaining about the JB performance of iPhone 3G on 4.0.1 or 2, then you’re an idiot.

    2. I restored 4 times 2 from backup, 2 as new phone. Issues everytime. The point 3G users are trying to make is that if the new software doesn’t run as fast and cripples the phones, then allow users to go back to the OS that allowed for functionality. “Dealing with it” is not about being told (to this day) that updating works without a recourse if it doesn’t. I don’t need folders, I do want to make calls.

      1. Unfortunately, the nasty PDF security vulnerability that existed pre-iOS4.02 means there’s no going back; if there was a way back, the vulnerability wouldn’t be fully plugged, if you think about it.

        It’s a damned mystery as to why this is so, but my 3G works OK – it’s slower, but not annoyingly so, and bluetooth and battery life perform better. I also do appreciate folders, as my 120-odd apps now occupy just over 2 pages. I have never dropped a call on my 3G to my memory from day one (not that I spend my life with my phone glued to my ear). Bizarre!

  4. Om, could you please explain to this cub what people would do with that PDF exploit? I guess he’s never had his PC infected by clicking on an attachment in an email and spent a day cleaning up his PC? I’m pretty sure neither James nor Kevin would post something this silly to sully the good name of JKontherun (which is where I found this article).

    In addition, 100% of software theft on the iOS platform is committed by people that “jailbreak” their devices. Maybe EA can shrug off 50% to 75% piracy rates but most of the devs on the platform are small shops that can ill afford to support that many pirated users of their products. It stunts their growth and thus harms innovation on the platform.

    1. Haven’t been called a cub in years, Scotty; thanks for making me smile. As for malware: of course jailbreaking the iPhone and running “rogue” apps increases risk. Apple is right to warn users of those dangers, and — as I wrote — it should maintain its warranty policy. I’m just questioning why the company invests so much in stopping those who willingly, knowingly jailbreak at their own risk.

      1. So you’re arguing they should leave open known security vulnerabilities? Is that it? The problem is that a jailbreak vulnerability is also a security hole. How do you plug the security hole without also stopping that method of jailbreaking? If you don’t… yes, you’re letting people jailbreak, but you’re also deliberately leaving people who don’t want to jailbreak open to security threats. I can’t see how that’s responsible.

      2. Rick has you there –

        Jailbreakers rely on holes to exploit in the OS to circumvent the digital lock. But that’s not the only thing that hole can be used for. It could be used maliciously.

        By investing time and resources to fixing those holes, they make their OS that much more secure – which makes the consumer feel better about their device. It just so happens that jailbreakers find these holes to exploit – but it’s not to stop them – it’s to secure their OS.

      3. Colin, so what’s your rebuttal to Rick’s argument?

        As for the post, this is something I would expect to see over on Gizmodo but not in the GigaOm Network.

      4. Not long after the PDF-exploit jailbreak was discovered, a security researcher friend of mine gave me a pretty plausible demonstration of how he could use it to take complete control of any iPhone, jailbreaked or not, just by being on the same WiFi network as it.

        Suggesting Apple should have left it unpatched is frighteningly naive, and does a disservice to readers who might not understand the seriousness of the situation. All jailbreaking is done by exploiting root-level OS vulnerabilities, and Apple would be negligent to leave them unpatched.

    2. ughhh can somebody explain to scotty-boy that if the iPhone had an open file system there wouldn’t be any problem with patching exploits?

      Lets say you buy a car. You drive it around, you like it but the fact that it doesn’t have an aux port drives you nuts. But you bought the car, you’re free to do whatever you want with it. You can install one. Yay music!

      Now lets say your car is produced by Apple. You will have to find a radio station you like instead.

      Basically… it’s your phone you’re free to install whatever you want on it.

  5. One thing that you left out is that jailbreaking allows iPhone app piracy. Apple has a responsibility to help protect developers from piracy.

    1. Ya that’s why you can’t install anything on osx if it’s not though the app store either. WTF IS MICROSOFT DOING IN REDMOND?! HURRY UP AND GET RID OF MY PERMISSIONS!

  6. Except this is a BS story. Yes, in case you haven’t noticed, “jailbreaking” means hackers find and exploit a software bug. That security hole has to be patched, or else the iPhone will become infested with cockroaches. Android will do the same thing, unless they’re crazy.

    The patent, meanwhile, was totally misread — willfully, it seems to me — to be a threat against your honest, now legal, jailbreaker. It simply is not. Why would Apple want to find and disable any jailbroken phone? They could be sued if they did that, because it’s illegal. What we had in that patent was merely a number of extensions to the Find my iPhone utility in Mobile Me. Now, the user would be able to find the location, identify the thief, and send the info to the police. And they could wipe the stolen phone.

    A lot of people have a bizarre “1984” paranoia about Apple, because it doesn’t operate according to the way they think it should, according to some bizarre, pie-in-the-sky theory. They should get a friggin’ life.

    1. mmmm Anyone remember the update that bricked the first iphone?

  7. I agree with the author especially when many cool apps like advanced sms/mms copy/paste or backgrounding or even categories (all of which became part of iOS3+/4) were originally developed for patched iOS (read jailbreak). Jailbreak is not only about piracy, it’s also about innovation and when you see that some of these innovations ends up in a Apple official OS release it means that Apple too is making some profit out of this not only in terms of product development. In the end it’s the consumers that wins when it can hold a $700+ product which is supposed to behave like a phone (although until not so long ago it could hardly compete with the cheapest one for many funtions!!!)

    And Apple so called revolution is a lot about marketing, think at Facetime in OS4…mobile video conference is yrs old in Europe but for Apple folks and the general consumer it looks like a 2010 innovation or tech breakthrough!!!

    Design is great, usability too. The rest is far from being a star trek product.

  8. You argument is stupid and misses out key points that i believe are the true reason behind Apple’s new patent. You say that the money generated by the sales of apps is a tiny percentage of their revenue, but that is a huge sum of money for the developers who “waste” their time developing these apps so they can be stolen.

    If jailbreaking was too be allowed then how would Apple ensure the developers received their money? and if Apple couldn’t ensure this, then why would the developers stick around? No developers equals no apps and the iPhone/iPad would lose its bells and whistles and that would definitely hurt Apples revenues.

  9. It is clear that all the commenters that have never jailbroken their iphones keep pointing out the possibilities of phone instability or piracy. I’ve yet to see a pirated app, game or feature in the Cydia app store. All I see are ways to enhance and further personalize your iphone where Apple has failed to satisfy. So please stop talking nonsense about piracy.

    1. You aren’t looking in the right place. This is not FUD. Virtually any app can be pirated wants jailbroken. There is an app for that. Jailbreakers just try to keep it quiet because it is such a huge gaping whole of piracy, they want as little attention on it as possible.

    2. I have jailbroken my iDevices, and I’m intimately familiar with said instabilities.

      As far as piracy, the default list of sources in Cydia and Rock are piracy free. Adding other sources in the Cydia preferences gives you access to apps that aren’t supported by a major source, are illegal, etc etc. Many, many many JB users pirate software. (BTW, if you’re stealing software that’s a dollar or two, maybe you should have saved the $199-$699 you spent on hardware.)

  10. Interesting post. I have not discussed this issue on my site but believe there are two primary reasons for this:

    Cause Steve said so
    Apple has made it clear that they want to sell as many iPhones around the world as possible — but, they want even more to protect their massive profit margins. Would allowing users to jailbreak phones ultimately harm the carriers that are paying Apple so much for each phone, robbing them of long-term contracts/customers, and diminishing their desire to continue giving Apple $600 per device? This is why I think they do this.

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