Rethinking a Jailbroken iPhone

As I tweeted yesterday, I've been considering just having a stock iPhone experience rather than jailbreaking anymore. I was mostly kidding about the 'OldManism' thing, but perhaps this really is a sign that I'm getting older and have lost patience with the tinkering aspect of owning a smartphone.

Life as a jailbreaker

I've been jailbreaking my iPhone for as long as I've owned one. I started on the iPhone 3G back in 2008, and continued doing so once I upgraded to the iPhone 4S earlier this year. I've spent quite a few hours scouring the internet—forget searching within Cydia, it's not at all designed for discovery—trying to find great stuff I could try out.

I was pretty big on themes at first. I probably used all the big ones at some point, but eventually settled on switching between Glasklart and Illumine every now and then. Once I discovered how to make Glasklart icons for apps that hadn't been added into the theme's repository yet, I spent far too much time doing so because I liked having a uniform experience.

I've also grown accustomed to certain conveniences:

  • biteSMS allows me to compose or reply to text messages from anywhere, even the lockscreen.
  • The lockscreen itself started out as basically a clock and wallpaper, and Apple has made it a bit more useful with iOS 5's Notification Center, but I can still do even more with it if I want, using something like LockInfo.
  • I always have easy access to toggles for wifi, volume, brightness, airplane mode, and more, using NCSettings (which replaced the beloved SBSettings on my iPhone a while back).
  • With SmallBanners, the top-screen notification banners used in iOS are smaller and less obtrusive.
  • With Folder Enhancer, I can put app folders inside of other folders on the homescreen. My folders are no longer limited to 12 apps, but instead are paginated much like the homescreen, and I can have as many pages as I want.
  • Cyntact alters my Contacts list to show peoples' photos next to their names. Why this isn't default functionality is beyond me.
  • NoNewsIsGoodNews hides that stupid NewsStand icon that I'll never use.
  • DataDeposit lets me save all data from any given app into a folder within my Dropbox account, where I can restore from later if needed.
  • CallBar prevents an incoming call from overtaking your entire screen, and instead relegates it to a nicer notification bar at the top that you can swipe to answer.

I could go on, but hopefully you get the idea. There are truly some great things available to jailbreakers*, and I'm hesitant to give it all up.

*I'd like to note that I'm not one of those people who jailbreaks in order to pirate apps. Those kinds of repositories have never touched my phone, and they never will. In fact, there are several apps I've purchased from Cydia, and if I stay jailbroken, I have a few more that I'm willing to buy. I don't mind supporting good development, whether it's happening on the App Store or in Cydia.

There's always a catch

Unfortunately, jailbreaking has its downsides too. Near the end of my iPhone 3G's life, it would often take incredible amounts of time to accomplish simple tasks like opening the camera app (which actually made me nearly miss some good shots of my son in the weeks after his birth). I didn't mind too much at the time, because that's just what I was used to.

It wasn't until I upgraded to the 4S that I realized how stupidly slow my phone had been. And due to the timing of my upgrade, my phone was running a version of iOS that hadn't been jailbroken quite yet, so I actually was running a stock phone for a little while. Once that jailbreak was publicly released though, I figured that this speedier phone should be able to handle it much better than the old one had. I was right, and soon I was back to my old-but-improved setup.

The problem is, some of the same old issues are still bugging me constantly.

To explain, over the last few years I've developed a habit of avoiding any iOS releases that didn't seem important enough to mess with. Each time I updated iOS, I would go through this whole rigmarole of manually backing up all my more personal stuff (like photos and contacts), deleting certain packages from Cydia that interfere with iPhone restores (which I don't believe is a problem anymore, thankfully), trying to save my SHSH blob in case I wanted to downgrade to the older version of iOS later, restoring the phone, installing the new iOS, re-jailbreaking, putting all my favorite apps back on the phone, and setting everything back up from scratch.

Why did I put myself through all that? Well, there's nothing quite like starting with a clean slate. Everything just seems to run better that way (although I admit this could be a placebo effect).

An unfortunate side effect of all this is, while I'm avoiding iOS upgrades, app developers of course continue to push out releases that sometimes break compatibility with my version of iOS. I have several apps that no longer support iOS 5.0.1 (my current version) and I simply cannot update them until the phone itself has been updated to 5.1.1 first (or iOS 6, when it releases this fall).

Another irritant lately has been that, as time goes on, my phone gets worse and worse about hanging on to login data for certain apps. I haven't done anything different with the phone lately, yet certain apps like Facebook, Tweetbot, and Reeder keep asking me to login when they never did before. Tweetbot specifically has a problem with losing other internal settings too, like which 'Read Later' client I want to use.

Apple's email app has been degrading lately, too. Sometimes I'll open it, only to find a bunch of emails on the list being shown with the 'unread' badge, even though LockInfo shows that I only have one unread email. Besides that, all emails on the list are showing as not having any content. Like so:

Transient

The only way of fixing this email thing, along with the apps that are losing random settings, is to do a hard-reboot of the phone. I've gone from hardly ever having to do that, to doing it once or twice a day. Annoying.

Where am I going with all this? Well, I think that when iOS 6 drops, I'm probably just going to do one more fresh restore and then keep it that way. I'm getting to the point where dealing with this shit is more irritating than not having all of those conveniences.

This is where someone might ask, "why don't you just get an Android phone?" I've had an iPhone for so long that I've become pretty entrenched in their ecosystem. I've spent a not-so-small amount of money on App Store apps, and I'm not just going to throw all that away. Plus, I plan on getting other Apple products someday, like an iMac and an iPad. Why wouldn't I just keep using the phone that works best within that framework?

After iOS 6 launches, I'll gather some thoughts and post what I think about the experience.