app breaks iPhones out of apple’s ‘jail’
Kevin Lee, a George Mason University senior, says he earns about $50,000 a year with an illicit-sounding pitch on Craigslist: “Get Your iPhone Jailbroken Today.”
Within minutes, the computer science major in Fairfax, Va., can download code onto his customers’ iPhones and fling open the portal to an alternative world of apps and software that Apple condemns. The jailbreak perks include: tethering the iPhone’s Internet connection to a laptop or iPad without paying extra charges; swapping out the service provider for a cheaper carrier, or customizing the iPhone with 3-D screens, bouncing icons or funkier fonts.
An early form of jailbreaking started shortly after Apple unveiled the iPhone in 2007, but the practice has now evolved into a lucrative industry with millions of consumers. Quashing many doubts about jailbreaking’s legality, the U.S. Library of Congress ruled in July the practice did not violate Apple’s copyright.
“To be honest, when I first started, I did it for my friends, myself, but it has snowballed from there,” said Lee, who jailbreaks iPhones to enable new screen designs, then “unlocks” them so customers can switch wireless carriers. “I was getting five to 10 customers a week, now it’s 30 to 40. I just had one customer from the Mongolian embassy who was moving to the capital of Mongolia, and he wanted to use the iPhone there.”
The primary jailbreak apps store, Cydia — named after the insect that bores into apple trees — now earns about $10 million a year and counts about 4.5 million active weekly users hunting for apps. Its dominance in the jailbreak world has grown so much that last year, when a rival store began eating into its market share, Cydia simply merged with the competitor, unleashing howls about a monopoly.
Some developers, meanwhile, are raking in sales off their apps.
In what might be the ultimate sign that the jailbreak industry is losing its anti-establishment character, Toyota recently offered a free program on Cydia’s store, promoting the Scion sedan, and was also the first major corporation to post an ad on the jailbreaking site, www. modmyi.com.