Jailbreaking is suddenly all the rage - again. Despite Apple's best efforts to improve its iOS mobile operating systemand discourage users from hacking its mobile devices, yesterday's launch of the the evasi0n jailbreak tool for iOS 6 is a massive hit. Since yesterday, the Cydia store for jailbreak apps has been installed more than 1.7 million times.
Demand for evasi0n was so high, in fact, that the Cydia app store has been experiencing performance and availability issues for the last 24 hours. Cydia creator Jay Freeman (known online as @saurik) confirmed the issues on Twitter and via the app store's home screen. Freeman and other developers have been busily rewriting code and fixing bugs.
"Traffic from evasi0n has caused many errors," Freeman wrote early this morning. "After 19 hours of work… things seem stable."
New jailbreaks are always highly anticipated and it's now pretty much expected that the launch of a new one will cause the site hosting it to slow down or crash. But it's not every time that the release of a new jailbreak causes Cydia itself to grind to a halt.
As of this afternoon, many Cydia twaks and extensions were still returning error messages instead of downloading. Most of them appear to have been fixed, although some users on Twitter are still reporting issues.
If Apple was hoping to see jailbreaking's popularity decline, the launch of evasi0n should be sobering news.
Even though jailbreaking phones and other non-tablet mobile devices is perfectly legal, Apple discourages the practice both with public warnings about the risks and with substantial upgrades to iOS that often steal ideas from the jailbreak community. The Notification Center that arrived in iOS 5, for example, looked very familiar to people who had jailbroken their devices. iOS 6 didn't have quite so many features lifted from the jailbreaking community, but it was still a fairly substantial upgrade with plenty of improvements.
Why Is Jailbreaking So Popular?
Of course, the launch of iOS 6 wasn't without its problems. Most notably, the arrival of Apple Maps was an epic debacle big enough to dislodge key executives at the Cupertino giant. It wasn't until Google released its new Maps app for iOS in December that iPhone 5 owners were able to get relief from the disfigured terrain and imperfect data wrought by Apple's first stab at mobile mapmaking. As of Monday, those users have the option to make Google Maps for iOS their default mapping application, if they choose to jailbreak.
I'm speculating here, but it's easy to see why many iOS 6 users were particularly anxious to free themselves from Apple's control, especially after an imperfection as glaring as Maps bruised their confidence in the company's ecosystem. Another possible lure would be the ability to make Google's Chrome the iPhone's default browser.
That, and jailbreaking's popularity was already on the rise. In a highly detailed history of jailbreaking, Techcrunch's Sarah Perez revealed that Cydia has been downloaded 22.8 million times to date. That number is probably closer to 25 million by now, after the launch of evasi0n.
Taking Back Control From Apple
Jailbreaking is all about control. It shifts the balance from Apple to the consumer, allowing users to customize their devices, change the way the OS looks and install tweaks and add-ons to enhance the experience.
It makes sense that millions of people would want to regain this type of control over their mobile computing experience. After all, we are positively glued to these devices. They play an integral role in our day-to-day lives and as a result, we feel personally attached to them.
With personal computers, people who wanted it were conditioned to expect control over things like the names under our app icons, our default Web browser and the color scheme of our desktop. The post-PC mobile era has given us many new advantages and added a sleek layer of polish, but has taken away much of that control. Some of us want it back.
In a lot of ways, Apple's strict control is a good thing. It's the reason the user experience feels so flawless and intuitive. It's why I can hand an iPad to my 70-year-old mother or my 3-year-old-niece and not have to explain anything to them. It's the reason that in the post-PC era, the tech savvy are doing far less tech support for family members.
But there's a limit to how effective this top-down control can be. It's great that iOS works the way it does out of the box, but annoying that power users can't dig into the settings and start tinkering with things in ways that we've been able to do for decades on PCs. It's infuriating that I can't change my default browser to Chrome without circumventing Apple. It bugs me that I'm forced to use Apple's boring Mail app over something like Gmail or Sparrow, unless I hit the "Jailbreak" button.
Most of the things you can do with a jailbroken iDevice feel like things we should be able to do anyway. Many of them, as Android devotees are quick to point out, are things you can do on Google's mobile OS without having to do any tinkering.
That's true, but there are more than 500 million iOS devices in the world - and without an officially sanctioned way to customize things, the tinkerers among us will continue to turn to tools like evasi0n. Sometimes, if there's enough of us, we'll even crash servers to get them.
Lead photo by David Locke.