Why Jailbreaking Happens

by on under tech-policy
4 minute read

Why do people jailbreak their Apple products? Sarah Perez asked this question at ReadWriteWeb and has concluded that people want better applications for their Apple products. Since the new iPad either addresses or nullifies many of the complaints posed by consumers, Perez then argues that there are far fewer (legitimate) reasons to jailbreak the iPad. As the argument goes, if you want some aspect of your iPad experience improved then talk to Apple, they will take care of your desires.

Perez's argument is about the end product, the features and quality of the computer platform that I will hold in my hands. What is missing, however, is a consideration for the process. How will that end product get made? Who will make it? What role will I, as a consumer, have in the production process? While analysis continues to revolve around the quality and features of the software on the iPad, the issue that really motivates jailbreaking is the desire to change the process that leads to software on the iPad. Autonomy is the real motivation. Consumers remember having the power to define their computing platform and there are many who are not ready to cede that power to some licensors in Cupertino.

To be frank, many users are not satisfied with the decisions made by Apple licensors, and do not trust the ability of these licensors to meet the needs of consumers. The resources of Apple licensors pale in comparison to the massive resources available to an unrestricted economy, be it market or commons based, in terms of time and creativity. The massive resources of an unrestricted economy lead to the production of a much larger pool of programs and services compared to the restricted economy of licensed Apple applications, and this larger pool gives consumers greater power to define their computer usage experience to suit their needs and desires. Further, given the success of online software production, not only do users have a greater pool of already released software to choose from, but they also have the capability to ask a community of programmers for new software to fulfill any needs not already addressed by existing software, or to create the desired software themselves.

The attack on autonomy posed by Apple's licensed market is greater than just limiting the number of programs available, however. A deeper, and more troubling, issue is the fact that Apple has taken over the role of decider of what a good product is. As a consumer, deciding that a product meets my needs and desires is my most fundamental power and my most basic task in an economy. Normally I would exercise this power on an unfiltered and large pool of products. In the case of Apple's app store, however, somebody else (the licensors) has already done some of that deciding for me. Some might argue that this is convenient - Apple has already filtered out the sub-par apps and left the consumer with only the gems to choose from. Others, I among them, counter with this argument: is Apple's definition of sub-par the same as mine?

Perhaps Apple and I share the same thoughts on what qualifies as good software, what belongs on the iPad. Perhaps, going even further, it turns out that everybody shares the same thoughts on what qualifies as good software. A glance at the history of personal computer usage suggests otherwise. It is universally common for consumers to install additional software on their PCs after buying them because PC manufactures (or the user for that matter) cannot know ahead of time what a given user's needs, desires, and criteria for quality are. It is also common to find that the software installed on the PCs of two different users (and even two PCs of the same user) will differ, reflecting the differences in needs, desires, and criteria across the population. There is no universal definition of what good software is, and no universal set of needs and desires which can be used to tailor a computer platform.

If there is no universal set of needs and desires, then what gives Apple licensors the right to speak on behalf of my needs and desires in the market of software and services? Apple has usurped my powers as a consumer, and in doing so has reduced my ability to tailor a computing device to meet my needs and desires. Further, Apple has reduced my autonomy. It has taken away my ability to form my own needs and desires, and to voice those needs and desires in a market setting.

This is why jailbreaking happens. People want to buy Apple's hardware, but they want to maintain their own needs and desires. They want to be autonomous users, not the consumers that Apple thinks they should be.

Apple, Consumer Rights, iPad, iPhone, Jailbreaking
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