Jailbreaking. Rooting. Hacking. These are terms used to signify a person’s rebellion against their stock software. It’s very popular on mobile devices, especially smartphones, and also on games consoles (if you don’t mind being sued by the manufacturer).
Rooting is the term most often used when referring to Android hacking. The term means to break the device’s metaphorical walls in order to gain better access to the device and it’s operating system to allow better end user control of it’s functions. Michael James Williams already covered the question “To Root or Not to Root?“, as well as the actual process of rooting. But now, let’s take a look at the main difference between iOS’s jailbreaking and Android’s rooting.
Both rooting and jailbreaking can be used to describe processes on an iPhone or Android handset but we’ll use rooting to refer to Android and jailbreaking when talking about iPhones in this article.
One of the major attractions of jailbreaking is its use to customize an iPhone’s home screen. Winterboard is the most popular jailbreak application that allows better modification of iOS’s SpringBoard.
Luckily, this isn’t that necessary for Android due to its existing home screen modification tools. Of course, there are additional tools for further customization, but the draw for iPhone users isn’t as big for Android.
The original iPhone (and most US iPhones up-to-date) have been locked to AT&T’s network. It was only recently that Verizon got the iPhone. Unlocking was a big draw to these owners who wanted their iPhones to operate under unsupported networks. While international markets now have unlocked iPhone 4s, AT&T-bought phones are still locked.
Nicely, most Android phones are available unlocked or carriers (such as T-Mobile) will offer up unlock codes.
Rooting allows you to install custom ROMs onto your device. These are versions of Android your phone doesn’t officially support, such as unreleased firmwares and skins, like Motoblur on a Nexus S.
Fragmentation is something most geeks dislike due to their natural craving for the latest and greatest. Custom ROMs allow future updates (even something like Honeycomb) to run on devices that do not yet have official support.
There’s a bunch of custom ROMs available on the net, including third-party-created ones that offer new experiences that aren’t stock on any handset. This method of changing the whole look and feel of a device is a big draw for both Android and iPhone users and extends the customizability of home screens we talked about.
Once rooted, you’re able to alter factors such as CPU speed and maximum temperature through apps such as SetCPU. On iOS, you can also over- or under-clock your device through PC-side apps.
Each platform lacks what another has. For example, the process of taking a screenshot is very simple on an iPhone (press power and home button in unison). However, on Android, you either need to opt for the longer, SDK-based method or use apps only available to rooted users.
[Editor's Note: Google have announced that they will (at last) make this a lot simpler in future versions of Android.]
Jailbreaking and rooting both help eliminate the pet hates users have with either operating system. A dislike of a certain feature is probably shared with another user who may have decided to fix it via these methods.
A major difference is that Apple doesn’t want you to jailbreak your device. If your iPhone breaks, don’t even dare take it into an Apple Store.
Google, on the other hand, lacks an official stance on the matter but probably doesn’t care whether your device is rooted or not. An indication of this are the root-only applications available in its Android Market, something that Apple would never allow.
Legality in the United States
Originally, jailbreaking was illegal due to its contravention of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. However, following a request from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the US Copyright Office made it legal for iPhone owners to run non-Apple-hosted apps on their handset and use it on an unauthorized carrier. Apple filed comments to this exemption but they were not recognized.
This exemption was a universal act that also applied to Android devices. Therefore, in the US, both processes are legal according to the US Copyright Office.
If your iPhone is jailbroken, it’s fairly easy to un-jailbreak and re-virginize. In order to do such a thing, one must put the device into DFU mode by holding the power and home buttons for ten seconds. Then, one only needs to connect it to iTunes and restore. Fairly simple.
Un-rooting an Android device is not as simple. The process is different for most phones and if you don’t do the process perfectly, you might end up with a non-responsive phone. Also, unlike the iPhone way, there’s very few specific guides to doing this online. This is a disadvantage of fragmentation; the wide number of different software versions means there is a wide variety of methods for un-rooting.