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Three Behind-the-Scenes Reasons to Jailbreak Your iPhone

By Will Smith

Jailbreaking wasn't worth the hassle, until apps that let you change your default email client, web browser, and maps apps were available. Oh, and you can integrate Google Maps with Siri and get instant access to Google Now.

A few months ago, when the evasi0n jailbreak for iOS 6 devices was released, I quietly jailbroke an iOS device for the first time since before iPhone OS 2.0 was released. Using the evasi0n makes jailbreaking simple for any device running a supported versions of iOS. While jailbreaking is easier, keeping an iOS device jaillbroken can be a little tricky--it's important to avoid iOS updates until they've been cleared by the maker of your jailbreak tool. Why wait so long to jailbreak? Quite simply, I hadn't seen anything worth the hassle. I'm not interested in the instability that typically comes with major UI modifications and I didn't need any of the underlying changes to iOS that a jailbreak can enable.

That's all changed over the last year. As I've shifted away from using Apple's default web browser, mail client, and maps app, I finally found a good enough reason to bother with jailbreaking on iOS. And once the jailbreak was done, getting Siri to talk use Google Maps for voice navigation and having quick access to Google Now was icing on my jailbroken cake.

It's absolutely crazy that Apple doesn't let users set the default handlers for core services--things like web browsing, email, calendaring, and maps. Jailbreaking lets me fix that. I’ve installed a handful of packages that let me associate common tasks with the preferred app of my choice. So far I’ve changed my default browser (using Browser Changer), my mail client (using Sparrow+), and maps (using Opener). I was pleasantly surprised to know that once I’d switched the default maps client to Google Maps, Siri even handed off requests for directions directly to Google. See you later Apple Maps!

You probably don't know it, but Apple prevents third-party apps from using its high-speed Nitro Javascript renderer—even other web browsers. While Javascript rendering speed isn’t that important on real PCs anymore, it makes a pretty significant difference when you’re trying to load real webpages on a tablet, instead of the crappy mobile versions. Depending on the amount of Javascript used on a page, Nitro can make the difference between a page that works and one that's unbearably slow. To give you an idea of the performance gap I’m talking about, Chrome runs the SunSpider benchmark 3.81x slower than Safari on the exact same machine (5502ms vs. 1446ms). Lucky for jailbreakers, there’s an app that fixes that. It’s called Nitrous, and it enables Apple’s speedy Javascript in pretty much anything that could conceivably need to use it. The result, was a SunSpider result for Chrome that was on par with Safari, and the ability to use the iOS version of Chrome (and all the integration with my desktop browsing that comes with it), without paying a massive speed penalty. Nitrous costs $1, but my time is worth way more than that.

Once the phone was jailbroken, I added a couple of other small apps to fix things that annoy me. The biggest improvement was installing Activator. Activator lets you map app launches or certain action triggers to specific keypresses or certain multi-touch gestures. My time with the Nexus 7 left me hooked on Google Now, and I was thrilled to set a triple-tap of the home button to launch the Google app. After using a jailbroken iPad for a couple of months, I've found that I tend to skip the cosmetic changes, which leave the device unstable, in favor of subtle fixes that significantly improve functionality, although I did use Message Box to add Facebook chat heads to iOS.

To install any of these apps, open Cydia on your jailbroken device and search for the apps name. Purchasing paid apps goes through Amazon's payments system, and I was able to restore my purchased Cydia apps using my Facebook login.

If you'd like to try jailbreaking your iOS device, Lifehacker has a great guide that they keep constantly updated when the jailbreaking mechanism changes. If you jailbreak, it's important not to use the phone's automatic updates. As new iOS updates are available, you'll need to follow the instructions for your jailbreak to update. Removing the jailbreak from you iOS devices isn't tough either, you just need to make an iTunes backup of the phone or tablet, then restore that backup to the device.