The first installment part of this series looked at what jailbreaking (or rooting in the Android camp) is, as well as why and how it’s done. This installment looks at how Apple and AT&T regard the practice.
A good place to start when considering how AT&T feels about unhitched iPhones is by taking a close look at an application available through Cydia (the jailbreaker’s app store), called MyWi from Modmyi.
It’s apps like MyWi that probably keep AT&T execs up at night, as well as a reason they’re trying to phase out unlimited data plans. In case you hadn’t heard, AT&T’s long-awaited tethering option costs an extra $20 a month and allows users to connect one other laptop, or other device, to the Internet via their iPhone’s 3G connection. The fine print for AT&T’s tethering plan notes that all data used still comes out of the user’s iPhone data plan. So, if you were planning on streaming movies to your tethered laptop, you might want to reconsider if you’ve only got a total of 2GB data per month, AT&T’s highest data plan. To make matters even more difficult for those who might want the tethering option, AT&T now requires that users relinquish their unlimited plans if they purchase the tethering option.
MyWi, available through Cydia for a one-time purchase of $19.99, allows users to turn their iPhones into mobile hot spots (a la Evo 4G and Droid X). With MyWi, users can connect more than one device to the Internet via the iPhone’s 3G connection and not pay any additional monthly fee to do so. So, AT&T hits the panic button as it conjures visions of four laptops hooked up to an iPhone and all of them streaming video over its already taxed 3G network.
Why Some Users Think They’re in the Right
A little background on how AT&T arrived at tethering support for the iPhone might help shed some light on why many iPhone users feel perfectly justified in circumventing AT&T for their tethering rights.
When Apple launched iPhone OS 3.0 in early June of 2009, just ahead of the iPhone 3GS, the carrier promised tethering support for Apple products, but said users would have to wait a bit for the feature. That wait stretched out to June of 2010 for the feature to finally be available and once it was, it came with a couple of caveats that sent many iPhone users looking for other options.
One of the caveats required users to sign up for the carrier’s $25 DataPro plan, which caps data at 2GB per month. In other words, users could only get the tethering plan if they relinquished their unlimited plans.
But the pain didn’t stop there. In addition to the DataPro prerequisite, AT&T tacked on an additional $20 monthly tethering fee, sans additional bandwidth. Everything a user consumes comes straight out of their 2GB cap, with each additional 1GB of data costing $10.
In the end, the tethering iPhone user is now paying $45 per month for less data than their $30 per month unlimited plan allowed. Nevertheless, AT&T has made sure to spell out in its Terms of Service (TOS) that while it may be legal to jailbreak your iPhone, it’s not OK with them. Here’s the exact wording, if a bit lengthy, from AT&T’s TOS:
Furthermore, plans (unless specifically designated for tethering usage) cannot be used for any applications that tether the device (through use of, including without limitation, connection kits, other phone/smartphone to computer accessories, BLUETOOTH® or any other wireless technology) to Personal Computers (including without limitation, laptops), or other equipment for any purpose. Accordingly, AT&T reserves the right to (i) deny, disconnect, modify and/or terminate Service, without notice, to anyone it believes is using the Service in any manner prohibited or whose usage adversely impacts its wireless network or service levels or hinders access to its wireless network, including without limitation, after a significant period of inactivity or after sessions of excessive usage and (ii) otherwise protect its wireless network from harm, compromised capacity or degradation in performance, which may impact legitimate data flows. You may not send solicitations to AT&T’s wireless subscribers without their consent. You may not use the Services other than as intended by AT&T and applicable law. Plans are for individual, non-commercial use only and are not for resale. AT&T may, but is not required to, monitor your compliance, or the compliance of other subscribers, with AT&T’s terms, conditions, or policies.
Of course, an application like MyFi is not the first time users have circumvented a carrier’s monthly fee. For instance, iPhone users can currently download applications like Navigon for a one-time $39.99 fee from the App Store instead of getting a similar turn-by-turn navigation service by paying AT&T a $10 monthly fee.
Apple Doesn’t Like Jailbreaking Either
While one could probably make the case that if Steve Jobs had owned an iPhone back in the ’70s, he and Apple-co-founder Steve Wozniak would have been two of the first to jailbreak the device, it’s no secret that Jobs frowns upon tinkering with Apple’s handiwork.
While the company has been relatively mum on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) jailbreaking exemption, the response from the company simply reiterates that jailbreaking voids the phone’s warranty:
“Apple’s goal has always been to insure that our customers have a great experience with their iPhone and we know that jailbreaking can severely degrade the experience. As we’ve said before, the vast majority of customers do not jailbreak their iPhones as this can violate the warranty and can cause the iPhone to become unstable and not work reliably.”
Aside from claims of voided warranty and the like, Apple will always be Apple, a company obsessed with control of its products and attention to detail. Take a look at the classic iPhone UI, and then look at one that’s been jailbroken and tweaked beyond recognition and you get some idea of why a company that thrives on mind share and brand recognition across all of its products might not want users throwing up a UI theme that mimics the look and feel of Microsoft’s Windows operating system.