Most of us think of Android as the perfect phone for tweakers and customisers: it's open source, it has lots of different hardware options, and the OS lets you do a lot more out of the box. We think of the iPhone as a closed system, a horrible place for people that like to tweak their phones, but that's wrong. The iPhone is actually the best phone out there for hackers, tweakers and customisers. Here's why.
Title image remixed by olly (Shutterstock).
Those of you that read Lifehacker regularly know that I've been an Android fan for a long time, and I've written countless posts about picking your hardware, rooting your phone, downloading new ROMs, and otherwise tweaking the heck out of your phone. I even wrote a piece on the best Android features that the iPhone doesn't have. But after switching over to the iPhone, I've discovered that tweaking and customising my iPhone is easier, more fun, and in nearly every way just as powerful as tweaking an Android phone.
Jailbreaking Is Eons Easier than Rooting
There's no question Android can do more out of the box than the iPhone. Being able to automate your phone with something like Tasker is awesome. But when you really want to get down to tweaking the nitty-gritty, the fact of the matter is that rooting is what opens up real possibilities. Unfortunately, rooting is about as big of a headache as breaking into a bank vault with a safety pin. You have over 100 different Android phones out there, each with its own rooting method, caveats and risks that you have to research. It's so annoying that we had to restrict our rooting guide to only select phones, in addition to tacking on an exhaustive glossary of all the crap you have to know before starting the process. Our jailbreak guide, on the other hand, is three steps long, which include "plug in your phone" and "click this button". It doesn't get much easier than that. And once you're jailbroken, you can do just about anything, including making your iPhone read your mind with Tasker-like automation.
Everyone's Working from the Same Pool, Which Means More Tweaks
The headache doesn't stop with rooting, either. Because Android has so many devices and so many different versions of itself floating around (the sad downside of open source), a lot of the tweaks you get are sadly specific to a certain device or ROM. Tweaks that work with Sense ROMs won't work with AOSP ROMs, and Gingerbread tweaks probably won't work with Ice Cream Sandwich-based ROMs. With each phone, you only have a small subset of developers working for you and your software. On the iPhone, every developer is making an app for everybody's phone, which means you have heaps of different tweaks to pick and choose from — and there's no need to find out whether it's compatible with your hardware, version of Android or ROM.
When you have an iPhone, though everyone is using essentially the same device you are. Everyone's developing for the same phone, and the same version of the OS. Not only are Android users limited by the huge number of devices out there, they're also limited by whether they've even been updated to the latest version of Android or not. And it's not as if everyone can even get a custom ICS ROM yet — many of us (including me and my sad Thunderbolt) are stuck waiting for the official kernel, radio layer or other nonsense to be officially released by our phone manufacturer. So much for the advantages of openness.
You Can Find Every App and Tweak in One Place
Lastly, we come to Cydia. Now, I'm the first guy to complain about how slow and annoying Cydia can be, but after coming from Android, I've realised that Cydia is the greatest thing to happen to us phone tweakers. Want to install an app, tweak or customisation to your iPhone? Chances are pretty darn good you'll find it among the thousands of apps and tweaks available in Cydia. Want to do the same on Android? Once you've narrowed down the tweaks that your device can actually use, you'll have to root through forums like XDA Developers or RootzWiki or countless others to find what you're looking for, and then sideload it onto your phone via Dropbox or USB. And don't even get me started on what happens when Megaupload or whatever hosting service they're using goes down — then it becomes even harder to find that tweak. Cydia takes two steps: search, tap to install. What kind of tweaks can you get? Some favourites of ours include:
- Get quick access to just about anything from the Notification Center
- Customise the look of your iPhone with custom icons, wallpapers and themes
- Tether your iPhone to your computer over Wi-Fi, and even hide that data from your carrier
- Turn off passcode lock when you're at home, turn off notifications when face down and other awesome automated functions
- Read your text messages on your computer
- Make Sparrow your default email app and make anything your default browser
- Set custom alert tones for any app
- Put scrollable notifications on your lock screen for easier reading
- Lots, lots more
Where the iPhone Still Falls Short
The iPhone isn't the "perfect" tweaker phone, of course. There are still a lot of things I miss about Android. For example, you can get widgets on the iPhone, but it isn't quite the same, and you won't have the vast library that you do on Android. I'll always miss the ability to install custom keyboards like Swype and SwiftKey, or being able to create location-based automation like you can in Tasker. Furthermore, Android users can download new kernels, radios and other deep-system tweaks that iPhone users aren't really privy to — though I'd also argue that I no longer feel the need to, because the iPhone isn't as laggy or battery-starved as my Android phone was (speed and battery life being the primary benefit of these deep-system tweaks). You also don't have full ROMs on the iPhone, but frankly, wouldn't you rather piece together all your favourite tweaks from Cydia than have another developer do it for you? Android ROMs can be great, but again, I feel like half the time I'm downloading them to fix a problem rather than add cool stuff.
In the end, it boils down to this: tweaking Android is stressful beyond belief, for only a bit more freedom than you get from a jailbroken iPhone. Tweaking the iPhone, on the other hand, is loads of fun. And isn't that what it's all about?
Agree? Disagree? Just want to share your favourite jailbreak tweak? Bring it on in the comments (but let's keep it civil, guys).