A mere three weeks after Apple released iOS 5.1.1, the jailbreaking community has cracked it wide open. The latest version of the Absinthe jailbreaking tool is now available for download and it covers most iOS 5-compatible generations of the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch.
Because of changes in hardware - most notably the A5 processor - it took hackers several months to jailbreak iOS 5 on the iPhone 4S and iPad 2. Now that the biggest technical hurdles have been overcome, these new jailbreaks are coming out more rapidly.
Who Is Absinthe 2.0 For?
The new version of Absinthe covers almost every version of the iPad (except second generation iPads sporting the 32-nanometer chipset) and every iPhone since the second generation (3G). The two most recent iterations of the iPod Touch are supported as well. If you own any of these devices, Absinthe 2.0 should work for you.
If you have any desire to customize your iOS device or run apps that aren't authorized by Apple, jailbreaking is the way to do it. These tools have become easier to use, so it doesn't take a computer science degree from MIT to unlock one's device from Apple's control. With Absinthe, it's a matter of backing up the device in iTunes, clicking a button in the Absinthe UI, waiting and then restoring the device.
Why Jailbreak in the First Place?
Jailbreaking is not about pirating apps, as devotees of the practice are often quick to point out. It's also perfectly legal. For most users, it's about counteracting the type of top-down control for which Apple has long been famous.
Once you've run Absinthe or an equivalent tool, your iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch will be granted access to Cydia, which is a repository of apps and tweaks for iOS that would never make their way past Apple's approval process. Some of them are experimental apps. Some are tweaks that let you alter the way the phone's UI looks and works.
Apple has a tendency to adopt many of the features that the jailbreak community has developed. It even hired Nicholas Allegra, a developer better known as Comex, who launched a dead simple, browser-based tool called JailbreakMe.
Over time, the specific rationale for jailbreaking has evolved, and as iOS itself moves forward, nabbing ideas from jailbreak hackers here and there, so too does the community of developers who work on the hacks, apps and tweaks that make the process worth it for so many people.
For owners of the iPhone 4S, for example, jailbreaking helps extend Siri's functionality in ways that Apple is not yet ready to endorse, even if they are perfectly useful. Other popular tweaks do things like animate the homescreen, allow more apps within folders, add a fifth icon to the dock and enable more features and controls within Notification Center.
There are also legally questionable advantages, such as the ability to download classic video game emulators and use your phone's data connection as a wireless hotspot without going through your carrier.
There Are Downsides: Should You Bother?
Jailbreaking is not without its disadvantages. Some users have reported issues with battery life, especially when they trick out their device with a ton of tweaks and apps. Apps can also sometimes be less stable than officially sanctioned iOS apps.
As easy as it is to hate on Apple's control, it's also true that part of what the company's approval process does is ensure that apps have an optimal user experience, are stable and don't eat up too much in the way of resources. When you jailbreak your device, to some extent, you're surrendering that sleek, foolproof world that is iOS in favor of something a little more unruly.
If you jailbreak iOS 5.1.1 and fall in love with the experience, be prepared to wait out the next official iOS upgrade until a jailbreak is developed. As we saw with iOS 5, this can take months. Alternatively, you can restore your phone back to factory settings and upgrade iOS, but you'll be missing out on all the advantages of the jailbroken lifestyle.