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Aug. 9, 2010

Hackers rejoice!

by Melodi Anahtar, Editor-in-Chief
In late 1983 Apple released a commercial where it attacked the "Big Brother" government, an idea sensationalized by the novel 1984. But in recent years, Apple has become overruling and controlling - the very thing it was designed to avoid. The company now seems to manipulate every aspect of its products, while trying to monopolize the technological field as a whole. Only consumers can kick Apple off of its high horse, and on June 26 the Library of Congress emphasized this idea by granting more freedom to iPhone users.

Apple's iPhone is now able to be "unlocked" by users. Courtesy of product-reviews.net
Apple's iPhone is now able to be "unlocked" by users.
The Library of Congress ruled "jailbreaking" as legal for iPhone users. Jailbreaking allows iPhone users to get up close and personal with their phones by hacking into files that are usually inaccessible. Tinkering with these files enables users to download extensions, themes and applications that are not sponsored by Apple; the decision also defends users who “unlock” their iPhones and switch service providers from the standard AT&T coverage. At long last, owners are able to personalize their phones without the fear of scrutiny or prosecution by Apple’s “jailbreak police.” The decision to legalize jailbreaking could not have come soon enough.

Though its legalization occurred only recently, jailbreaking methods have existed since 2007 and are publicly available. In November 2009 an estimated 10 percent of iPhone users were using jailbroken phones, and the number is still increasing. Apple’s jailbreaking policy voids users' warranties and denies any customer service the minute they jailbreak their phones, but based on the increasing number of jailbreaks, the existing policy is apparently not enough to deter users who long for customization.

One of the primary reasons that Apple opposed jailbreaking is because the act allows customers to use other means to get applications on their phones, which prevents Apple from getting its 30 percent cut earned through its built-in App Store. Considering the large number of applications available, this could lead to a huge loss in profits. But Apple's decision to sell the iPhone in the first place came with the understanding that there are risks involved with every multi-billion dollar product, and in Apple's case, it is the risk that users will go beyond its iron wall and buy back-door applications.

But despite Apple’s hatred of jailbreaking, the new policy carries hidden benefits for the company. There are plenty of other "smartphones" on the market, like the Android, which Google released for the exact purpose of personalization by enabling open source code. “We wanted to make sure that there was no central point of failure, so that no industry player can restrict or control the innovations of any other,” Google states on their Android website. Considering the benefits of open source, the legalization of jailbreaking may enable Apple to stay competitive in the smartphone market.

Moreover, many users want to free themselves from Apple’s restraints, and their newly granted freedom is long overdue. The iPhone's software provides a creative blueprint for users, who should be able to utilize their phone’s power; jailbreaking allows application developers to delve even deeper into the realms of their imaginations and come up with more sophisticated applications. The ability to add personal touches may boost customers' incentive to buy an iPhone over other "smartphones," which is something Apple should support. The increase in user control may also increase the iPhone's sales, since customers are now free to go beyond the constraints of the iPhone's original software.

As hurt as Apple may be by the recent ruling, it is about time that users gain freedom over their own possessions. Customers spend hundreds of dollars on the phone in the first place, and many are not maliciously abusing their personalization power. Common changes made available via jailbreaking, such as keyboard visualization options or backgrounds featuring Megan Fox, are innocuous features. The real dangers of jailbreaking are being unable to use the phone’s warranty and downloading malicious software.

If Apple wants to keep loyal consumers, it needs to tolerate the ruling set by the Library of Congress and accept the fact that advancements in technology correlate directly with user involvement. If Apple does not embrace the software leeway that jailbreaking provides, it risks losing consumers and damaging its reputation, which is undoubtedly worse than losing a few application shares.



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