February 17, 2013
Applesauce Special: Jailbreaking (Part 1)
The latest jailbreak for iOS devices has already been called the most “successful” of all time, meaning its stable, reliable, and millions of iPhone users have taken advantage of it. In fact, at the time of this writing, more than 7 million devices have been jailbroken with Evasi0n, causing Cydia, the Jailbreaking app store, to become overloaded with too many requests.
I’m no prude, but I normally keep my iPhone experience pure. This isn’t because I’m opposed to added functionality or customization (although I have worked up a clever metaphor using burrito shops to explain the difference between Android and iOS); rather, I know that my stock iOS phone will almost always “just work.”
Even now as I’m writing this piece about my experience with a Jailbroken phone, I’m wrestling with my iPhone 5 and a few paid modifications I’ve made to it. I’ve jailbroken my iPhone and iPod Touch a few times in the past, usually when a new jailbreak is released which is said to make the process even easier or more stable. I still remember guiding mobile Safari to Jailbreak.me, double checking my iPhone backup on my Mac, taking a deep breath, and jumping in. Friends of mine have persuaded me to jailbreak on other occasions, telling me about cool new tricks and modifications I could make to the UI or the core functionalities of my device.
Yet, I’ve never let my device run free in the wild for more than a week at a time. There’s always something that occurs; either the screen goes wonky or the phone continues to crash. In one instance, the jailbreak never took, and I had to go nuclear on my phone with a DFU restore, a method I hope you never have to resort to. “These bad experiences happened years ago,” I told myself as I began to read more and more about the new Evasi0n jailbreak for iOS 6.1 and iPhone 5. “Surely things have come a long way since then…”
And they have. After a week with my jailbroken phone, I’ve run through the gamut of emotions one can have when working with a gadget, all the way from “Buy me a rainbow and slap me silly, life is so grand!” to “Everything about technology sucks and I’m moving to a wigwam.”
In the end, I realized that there are some deep philosophical issues at play when one attempts to hack and tweak their device. It goes far beyond wanting your smartphone to silence itself when you turn it face down. This desire to do so says something about what lies deep inside of us and how we view our technology. I didn’t expect to walk away from this experiment having learned a life lesson (and I feel a little silly for it), but I did. If you’ll allow me a moment of your time….
I jailbroke my phone easily enough at the beginning of the month using a handy guide from Cult of Mac. The entire process went smoothly and before I knew it, my phone was free from the App Store’s tyranny. It didn’t even look any different, save the Cydia icon sitting there on my home screen. As I mentioned before, previous jailbreak attempts left my screens looking funny, the icons slightly askew and text aligned in a very wrong way. I entered the Cydia store again for the first time. Having learned my lesson, I chose the “User” setting, knowing that — despite my best intentions — I’m never going to allow myself the time to learn how to use the developer mode. After quickly scanning some modifications in the “Featured” department, I downloaded a few packages to take care of a few nagging quirks that I’ve never appreciated about the iOS UI.
For instance, while I love the way Notification Center works, I’ve never liked the way it looked.
I’ve always thought the linen looked nice, but I never understood the context of Notification Center. For instance, are we pulling it down and above the home screen, or are we pulling the home screen down to reveal our notifications? It’s implied that we’re pulling it down, but once it’s down it looks as if the home screen had been pulled down as well. BlurriedNCBackground was my mod of choice, turning the linen background to a simple blurred pane which is clearly pulled down and above the home screen.
The Notification Center actually turned out to be a powerful tool for me once jailbroken. Another minor annoyance of mine is having to switch personal hotspot on and off several times a day. As someone with a “mobile office,” I’m constantly switching from Wi-Fi to cellular Wi-Fi; and while a minor inconvenience, having to tap in and out of my settings menu each time can be a real pain in the ass. NCSettings places several of these common and not-so–commonly used switches right there in Notification Center, meaning I can now toggle personal hotspot, Wi-Fi, 3G, Bluetooth, screen orientation and even private browsing all from Notification Center. It’s a handy little hack that drove me to wonder aloud (literally) why Apple doesn’t offer something like this in the stock OS. It’s not even all that geeky or difficult to use. Perhaps the world will never know.
After a few days I felt comfortable enough to begin paying for some of these packages.
One thing I’ve always wanted my iPhone to be able to do is display the bloody weather from my lock screen. Again, this seems like it would be easy to do; and yet, Apple only gives you the time of day (literally) on the lock screen. Upon a good recommendation from another jailbreak buddy, I gave LockInfo 5 a go, bringing not only the weather, but a whole host of other options to my lock screen, such as calendars, email, messages and even TweetBot Notifications. This is where I ran into my first problem with jailbreaking.
In Search of the Perfect Lock Screen
At first, everything downloaded smoothly. I may or may not have spent 5 minutes turning my screen off and on again just to see the weather right there on my home screen, in line with my carefully picked wallpaper. Then I decided to tweak what LockInfo 5 could do for me. After throwing a few virtual switches, I ended up with 2 versions of the weather on my screen and notifications for damn near every app on my phone. It was a cluttered mess. I’m not a bright man and LockInfo 5 proved it. For the life of me, I could not figure out how to display just the weather, email and calendar. (I often forget what day it is. Again….not very bright.)
After poking around blindly in the app, I somehow flipped the right set of switches and never went back to the settings again. Somehow I had propped it up just so to where it was working how I wanted and didn’t want to disrupt it. A few hours later, I noticed that, according to my lock screen, the weather was still the same as it had been earlier that morning. And though I had switched “offices” since that morning, it still displayed the weather for a different part of town. The app, mod or whatever wouldn’t update the weather, leaving me with a static image for hours, or until I restarted my phone. An email to the developers later and I received word that they were “working on it.” More importantly, I noticed that my battery was draining almost right in front of my eyes. A 30% drop in one hour of just sitting there at my side? No thank you, sirs.
I switched to IntelliScreenX, and despite its terrible, awful name, it works fantastically well.
Suddenly I have accurate and up-to-date weather in my lock screen, as well as— get this— email and Twitter. All from my lock screen. You can even add your Facebook news feed to the lock screen, should you be into that kind of thing. It’s amazing I went so long in my life without being able to browse Twitter with simply the touch of one button, as opposed to “press, swipe, tap, tap, tap, Twitter.” I was impressed. I even tweeted about it late that evening. From my lock screen.
Then I woke up, and my pleasantly convenient world had gone to hell. Suddenly my home screen had become propagated with many white, blank icons with names I recognized, but tapping them did nothing. A second later and the icons were gone, along with all the lock screen goodness I had cultivated the night before.
I learned a valuable lesson that day. Deleting and reinstalling these things you download from Cydia isn’t as easy as a long press and tapping a wobbly “x.” No, you have to go into the store, wait for it to load, find the packages you’ve downloaded, then chose either to reinstall or remove. In other words, in order to browse Twitter from your lock screen, you have to fidget a lot. No matter if you jailbreak or not, you’ll probably be tapping your phone the same amount somewhere along the line. The iPhone, it likes to be poked, and it will get its pokes from you whether you like it or not.
The Home Button: To Press or Not To Press?
Another common annoyance with iOS is the somewhat archaic double home button press to bring up the application switcher. The latest and greatest way around this little inconvenience is called Auxo, the much talked about and greatly lauded hack that turns the normal square icons into long, rectangular previews. Auxo does much more than change the shape of these icons, of course. While there are those who claim it’s unnecessary, there are some of us (myself included) who like to keep a tidy iPhone. This requires some daily hygiene, force-closing all those apps which I don’t use regularly. With Auxo, closing an app is as easy as swiping down on whichever app needs to be closed. It’s so simple. If you’re looking to close all apps, simple tap and hold any of the open apps, and Auxo will ask if you’d like to kill each one of them. Tap yes, and you’re golden.
This gesture-based system made me think of my favorite feature of the iPad— the 4-finger swipe to return to the home screen or switch between open apps. It’s such a fluid way to navigate the device, and as someone who’s had home buttons fail in the past, I’d like to live by the swipe as often as I can. I installed Zephyr, a mod which brings iPad-like gestures to the iPhone. Swiping up from the bottom of the screen brings up the application switcher, (this pairs very nicely with Auxo) while swiping from the left or the right switches between open apps. You’re able to set the sensitivity levels for these gestures, so as to avoid accidental navigation. Yet even with the sensitivity set at its lowest setting (or “Tiny”), Zephyr would call up my application switcher nearly every time I sent a text message. Apparently (and I would have never noticed this without Zephyr installed), I have a tendency to drag my fingers across the keyboard when I text. Or maybe Zephyr is just super-excited to call up my switcher?
Coming up in the second installment of my jailbreaking experience:
Parting thoughts about hacking, wherein I think too deeply about a simple exercise of free will.
Are we wrong for wanting our devices to always work, even if we aren’t willing to? Will I continue to walk on the dangerous side of the tracks, or will I rush back home to the warm embrace that is Jony Ive’s good graces?
Tune in later this week for more jailbreaking adventures!
Image Credit: Photos.com