Jailbreaking gets its own iPhone “app”

The crew behind the most prominent efforts to jailbreak Apple devices have come up with the most user-friendly way yet to jailbreak the iPhone. But the process has demonstrated some of the ironies of distributing such a technique.

As we reported recently, officials have issued an official interpretation of copyright law which specifically says that jailbreaking — modifying a handset to run software without the approval of the manufacturer — is legal. Apple has responded by stressing that such activity breaches the user warranty.

Previously jailbreaking involved hooking up a handset to a computer and running software, an approach which could be a little intimidating to people concerned about messing with their coveted device.

Now a hacker using the handle “comex”, part of the “iPhone dev team”┬áthat works on Apple jailbreaking, has developed a simpler way to jailbreak iPhones, iPads and iPod touches.

It’s not quite as a simple as running an App: even with Apple’s often-quirky approval system, a jailbreaking app probably isn’t getting into the iPhone store anytime soon. But it’s the next best thing.

The new solution, JailbreakMe 2.0 is a web page which, when accessed through Safari on an Apple mobile device, looks remarkably like an iPhone app. It allows the user to trigger the entire jailbreaking process with a simple slide gesture.

The problem is that this looks set to be a very short term solution. It appears that it works by exploiting a bug in Safari which allows software to be downloaded and installed through the browser. It’s pretty much guaranteed that as soon as Apple figures out what that bug is, it will work to patch it.

But even making the process more user-friendly and less complex may not be enough to persuade less tech-savvy users that jailbreaking is worth the risks of something going wrong. The good news is that, as long as you back up the device through iTunes before using the tool, it appears to be completely reversible through the restore function. The bad news is that both FaceTime and MMS features appear vulnerable to performance problems on jailbroken iPhones: the tool creators are working to rectify this, but it does show the potential for unwelcome side effects.

There’s also the point that such a download method is very open to abuse, even though it’s highly doubtful that the people behind the JailbreakMe tool are looking to deliberately damage or compromise user devices.

[Screenshot credit: ZDNET]