Jailbreaking versus Rooting

The topic of jailbreaking and rooting is a hotly debated one for those who are ardent users of iOS ecosystem and Android ecosystem respectively. I’ve used both extensively with a strong preference towards the Android system.

At first glance, both jailbreaking an Apple iPhone and an Android phone accomplishes the same thing – it gives a user access to functionality that isn’t provided and sometimes unintended by default by Google and Apple respectively.

In order to appreciate the difference, you first have to look at not only the product approach each company has taken but also the the mobile phone industry as well. At a very high level, here’s what happens:

  • The OS provider creates the OS and provides it to the manufacturer
  • The manufacturer creates the device, develops the appropriate drivers, loads the OS and loads additional software to differentiate itself from other manufacturers using the same OS and then sells the device to a telecom provider
  • Telecom provider locks the phone and adds their own software to differentiate themselves from other telecomproviders

Apple is in a position where they are both the OS creator and the manufacturer. Where they are truly unique is with the volume of sales, they are able to determine what software is pre-loaded by the telecom provider as well. While Google does own Motorola, they have yet to release native Android OS on Motorola handsets. They have reserved that for their Nexus lines of phones.

So that the context is set, here’s the gist of the difference.

From an end user perspective, Android is probably as open as it can reasonably get from an end-user perspective. Here are some examples of it’s openness:

  • The ability to change your launcher.
    Many people who are new to Android think that the main screen where you see is static to your phone. For instance, Samsung is famous for its TouchWiz launcher and HTC is famous for its Sense UI. However, there are many other launchers that you can load – Apex and Nova to name two of the more popular ones and you can do this out of the box. Apex and Nova lets you do many things including change how many icons you can load on each screen
  • Change your keyboard
    Don’t like the default keyboard? Change it – you can buy SwiftKey or TouchPal from the store. You can change this without rooting your phone
  • Change your own app store
    Some of the manufacturers have their own app store and Amazon has their own as well. You can load Amazon’s app store
  • Side-load apps
    So if an app is not in any app store like for instance Swype (my favourite keyboard for Android still), you can always download it from their site, uncheck a safety setting (do this at your own risk), load it and run it

Manufactures like HTC actually freely give you the ability to root your phone without hassle although by doing so, it would automatically void your warranty. As open as Android is, there are a number of scenarios why you would want to root your phone. The first one is that unfortunately, you can’t delete the pre-loaded apps out of the box. The only way of getting rid of them is to root the phone and then delete them. The second big one is getting the latest and greatest versions of Android before the manufacturer puts them out. You could also do things like change kernels and tweak memory but I find that Android for the most part does that well enough on its own without interference from me.

Apple’s philosophy is different. At it’s core, the primary objective for Apple is to give all of its end-users the best experience. In order to achieve that, it has to be able to have almost complete control over their product by limiting what you can use.

You have to jailbreak a phone to allow you to

  • Unlock your phone
  • Enable multi-tasking
  • Change any of the default apps like your dialer, etc
  • Change your default UI

My conclusion is that one is not necessarily better than the other. It’s really what your goals are for your phone. The one thing that is obvious though – you can do a lot more with your Android phone out of the box without rooting than you can with an iPhone.

* Edit made based on Jason’s comment.