Forget Android: iPhone Is Better For Hacking And Customisation

Forget Android: iPhone Is Better For Hacking And Customisation

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:

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).


  • Agree 100%. I am someone who loves customising my gadgets. I’ve owned both iOS and Android devices and nothing compares to MobileSubstrate (what 99% of iOS tweaks are based on) and Winterboard. Android fanboys go on and on about how much more open their device is. Clearly these people have never done serious iOS jailbreaking. I direct your attention to Zephr, this level of customisation simply could not be done on a rooted Android. Customising icons? I’m not talking about just on the launch, I mean system wide. This can’t be done on Android without decompiling APKs, whereas on iOS it’s simple via Winterboard.

    • Ad that’s not including the 100s of different Launchers that be installed via Dreamboard on iOS. As for widgets, widgets on iOS (via perpagehtml, iWidget or Winterboard) are all coded in HTML/JavaScript/CSS meaning anyone can take a Widget and customise the HELL out of it simple and easily. I mean i converted and HTC style widget into MIUI style in under 1/2 hour. Try doing that on Android.

    • I love both devices and do some serious mod work with both, I even successfully uploaded OpeniBoot onto my 4th generation iPod in DFU. I did install iDroid on it, but I lost everything when I restored to iOS 6 beta to do some dev work.

  • Both phones have their merits. Androids strength is bit the customisation but the integration with other google services. The iPhone is ready to use out the box however once you understand the Android OS out its easy more versatile than ios could ever be.

          • ok ,using a plugin for tasker to execute system level commands (requiring rooting) my phone now performs a bunch of system level ops,like fulling killing an app that cant be killed otherwise, amongst other things, when i swipe it near a nfc tag, you can look at it like ive just automated some things but it requires rooting and system level knowledge and some apps all resulting in a change to the phones core functions, pretty much the definition of customisation

      • Also, the very definition of customisation is to modify (something) according to individual requirements; Tasker let user’s create their own profiles and tasks from scratch as they see fit. Customisation and automation are two completely different things, categorically.

        • Tasker let’s you create rules to have things occur at certain events. Nothing is customised, it simply now happens without user interaction.

          • Again, categorically you’re talking about two different things.

            Yes Tasker’s outcome is automation, but every one of the 30-40 automisation profiles and tasks which exist in my phone I created from scratch. It’s unlikely that they exist in identical specification, and perform exactly the same as mine do. That by nature is customisation.

            Also, do you really have nothing better to do than to sit here and spam EVERY comment added to this story?

          • I should learn to proof read…

            Yes Tasker’s outcome is automation, but every one of the 30-40 automisation profiles and tasks which exist in my phone I created from scratch. It’s unlikely that they exist in identical specification on any other device, and perform exactly the same as mine do. That by nature is customisation.

          • ” 30-40 automisation profiles and tasks which exist in my phone I created from scratch”
            Yes but these profiles are doing nothing more than standard functions, just automated. Hence nothing has been customised.

          • as a device/os as a whole the functionalty has changed, before tasker it did not do x at y time now it does, thats customisation of the operations of the device/os

            by your logic a widget is not a customisation but merely automation of the pp displaying its “stufF”

  • why not just title the article “heres another thing androids fragmentation “hurts””

    the problem is no where near as bad as you describe , the truth is, if the device is popular enough, think almost every high end android, then the ease and method of rooting will be fleshed out, simplified and safe, for almost every high end model there is a one click root app.
    If your trying to modify some obscure phone or low end model, sure you might find support from the “hacking” community low and you might have to do some work yourself but the % of people who own a low end phone and are trying to customise it is probably very very low and even so alot of the things that work for the higher phones trickle down to the lower end ones simply due to being in the same “family” for instance the galaxy 5 a low end low cost samsung offering released not long after the galaxy s has multiple 1 click root apps

    and you yourself mentioned the biggest win for android, once rooted the things you can do with the system so far outweigh the ios possibilities its not really even the same thing, jail breaking an iphone is more like breaking out of your jail cell only to be stuck inside the jail walls, android customisation has you out of your cell out of the prison and on a plane to a different country

    • “jail breaking an iphone is more like breaking out of your jail cell only to be stuck inside the jail walls”
      Thank you for proving how ignorant you are. Once jailbroken there are not “walls”, you have root access and complete file system control. Basically exactly what if gained by Rooting an Android.

      “and you yourself mentioned the biggest win for android, once rooted the things you can do with the system so far outweigh the ios possibilities its not really even the same thing”
      More generic claims about “possibilities” , “openness”, bla bla bla, with no specific examples.

    • Agreed that fragmentation is a storm in a tea cup. The fragmentation issues that have faced Android are no different to that of Windows. User’s don’t bleet on about being left behind and not being updated for free when Microsoft release a new version of Windows – it’s getting tiresome hearing the same tune from Android users.

      Different hardware models, different OS versions and different personal configurations are all issues that face software developers for the Windows platform too, and yes programming for different environments is more difficult – but as fury-s12 said, if the demand is there then supply will follow.

      • straight from this article and whilst i cant say 100% that someone somewhere hasnt done these things its certainly not as widely possible as with android
        “Android users can download new kernels, radios and other deep-system tweaks that iPhone users aren’t really privy to ”
        “You also don’t have full ROMs on the iPhone”

        this is what i mean, you can jail break an iphone but once done you are still “stuck” in the ios jail so to speak sure you can do whatever you want with it but you cant swap the kernel out or change the entire rom with android you can its a practice with a lot of prevalence.

        • “Android users can download new kernels, radios and other deep-system tweaks that iPhone users aren’t really privy to ”
          Why would I want to? Maybe in buggy Android land this is needed. But I pay Apple a premium so I don’t have to fix such core functionality.

          “this is what i mean, you can jail break an iphone but once done you are still “stuck” in the ios jail ”
          And when you root an Android you are still stuck in Android jail. A different rom isn’t a different OS, it’s still just Android with customisation pre applied, eg. different Launchers, widgets etc. All these customisations can be made manually in iOS. So I guess if your lazy roms have an advantage. Personally I’d rather tweak a OS created by professionals (iOS) than use an OS created by pimply faced kids in their parents basement (eg. CyanogenMod ) and hope it works.

          But, each to their own.

          • lol and we are the mindless fanboys with no backing up our claims, i cbf retorting your “arguements because its pretty clear you have a firm, and wrong, opinion of android that your not willing to waiver from no matter what is said

            btw you made the argument above that a glorious customisation benefit of ios is the pre compiled libraries of possible mods (dreamboard etc) and that those pre compiled libraries are a win for ios and yet you call roms, which are basically the same thing***, lazy and a crap thing about android, contradiction much

            ** they are basically the same because you can pick and choose what you want from a rom/kernal combo and then once installed almost everything can be toggled on/off to your liking not to mention androids own compiled list of possibilities after the fact.

          • the same ” professionals” that had daylight savings issues with the alarm clock? ( simply stating a well-known basic level bug)

  • That’s great if you can afford the enormous price premium to buy an iPhone.
    If not, the small amount of extra time required to root your device is far less than the money saved, and once rooted, your possibilities are endless.

  • Sure you can tweak an iPhone. You can make it look like sense or a cartoon. Or you can rip off developers and steal all their apps for free. That is all cyndia users do anyway. And then you can cry when your phone slows down and you don’t know what to do because you one click jail broken your phone and are actually useless with it. And there are no developers on forums to hold your hand and walk you through it. And then your phone magically dies at 18 months, somehow never making it to its year contract. Enjoy that iOS experience

    • Why would I bother with any of that? I’m not going to go on the 5th Crusade like Corey is, but generalising that all Cydia users pirate apps, and that nobody knows how to do basic maintenance of a jailbroken iPhone is… well, dumb. I’ll give you an example.
      Let’s say I download a tweak that doesn’t quite gel with my current setup. It causes my phone to crash and respring (iOS equivalent of explorer.exe on Windows being closed down). MobileSubstrate will kick me into Safe Mode, which locks out all tweaks from running, so I can go into Cydia and uninstall the tweak.
      That’s about as heavy as jailbreak maintenance ever gets. The only reason your phone would slow down is the same reason any OS would, you’re using too much of your RAM and CPU. Easily solved by reigning in on the number of tweaks you have active. Again, exactly the same as Android, or Windows, or any other *NIX based OS.
      As for customising the appearance to look like Sense, I can see the allure in that but there’s only a small amount of jailbreakers actually do that, or anything similar. Dreamboard is more geared towards “iNav” themes, which used to be very intricate and involved to set up, which Dreamboard is there to solve.

  • Hey Corey – word of advice. I would find it easier to read and accept your views if you weren’t so rude in dismissing many other views as ‘ignorance’. A little maturity and common courtesy will take you a long way in this world…

  • I have used both extensively in customization and haven’t found Android to be harder to root, IOS was significantly more difficult (SHSH blob backups anyone?) initially but became easier as the tools got better. Both have great customization options however I always felt limited by IOS for some reason – probably due to the fact that customisation of an Apple device is considered to be taboo by the manufacturer but on the Android platform it is encouraged. Both are good and I cant wait to have a crack at a windows phone some day, its all preference. And Corey – chill out people are entitled to different opinions.

  • I completely disagree, as someone who owns both an Android device and an iPhone, why should I have to buy a mac to develop apps for an iPhone? That is pathetic!
    No windows SDK for iOS development there’s one for Android!
    I believe you can create windows applications in unix/linux environments right?
    Sure there are ways around using a vmware workstation image but wouldn’t you just rather have it work out of the box like the Android SDK

  • I think you’re all missing out on the level of customisation that Android offers WITHOUT needing to root your phone.
    Android is designed to be customised out of the box: You can customise your keyboard, layout your desktop with custom widgets, change your default email, browsers, messaging, phone, and even your launcher, and other core apps that in most cases you simply can’t on the iPhone without jailbreaking.

    • This. Rooting doesnt do anything for customisation.

      There is a lot of misinformation about what you need to do to customise something in android and the author certainly has bought into it all.

      Also from my experience with jailbroken devices a lot of their tweaks often dont work that well or in somecases dont work at all and why must they charge for them now? (well i can say the same about some android tweaks now)

      Out of the box for customisation android wins hands down and after rooting/jailbreaking android still wins hands down. Heck I might even go as far to say that a stock android probably can be customised more than a jailbroken iOS device.

      • “Rooting doesnt do anything for customisation.”
        * Changing fonts
        * Installing widgets that need to run as an system app (commonly apks ripped from other roms)
        * ThemeEngine

        I thought Android users were tech genius overlords?

        • I thought Android users were tech genius overlords?

          wow you really are a giant contradiction, unfortunately you right rooting adds alot more customisation option, but again the op and the after comments are right out of the box android easily wins the customisation game but thats not the point of any of this

          • “I thought Android users were tech genius overlords?”
            They sure seem to think they are

          • Same As iOS user they think they are geniuses – for example ( so you dont say no backup examples)
            when you go to any apple store you find the Famous 2Genius Bar” and the only thing they do is
            1- resetting the device.
            2- restore the Device.
            3- check the Warranty to replace the board or send to Factory and re manufacture it again.

        • Why would I change roboto? IOS don’t have anything close to Widgets worth mentioning… theming can usually be done with an app not requiring root. Pointless post

          • and this will be very easy customization to re create any widgets i like in html/js

            what an easy customization.

            dude flame on…………

  • Corey, while your points may indeed have validity, your perceived behaviour is not winning you any friends. Live and let live – even if you get a job as Apple’s chief evangelist, you will always have, and need competition or a contrary opinion.

  • I’d post the tweaks and bits and pieces I like and use on my jailbroken 4S, but it’d just sink to the bottom of the ocean of piss that has developed here. Why can’t we be friends 🙁

      • Corey, I guess you love your iphone (maybe even marry it), however no matter what you say here, I always have and always own an Android based phone. I think this whole thing has gone away from topic. I do believe that seeing Apple is the only brand with iOS it would be alot easier to Hacking and customisation apps to be written. Android the market is flooded with many devices from phones to Car Radio, so providing a simple hacking and customisation apps are not as easy.

        However I will not support a company who is behind the 8 ball when it comes to intergration. Seeing Android is backed by Google, support for Gmail, Google Calenders, Google Maps, Google Drive (was Google Doc’s). Which make my job easier to do and my business easier to manage. The Cloud which Android was using long before iOS had it has made my day to day life some much easier (same as changing phones). Also I can not remember when the last time I connected my phone to my computer. Everything of mine is done wireless, and when Samsung bring the induction charging kit out for the Galaxy SIII that will remove the last cable i plug into my phone (becoming truely wireless)

        Now I well and truely live my life, I’m learning to fly, I rock climb, i’m in one of the strongest teams in my paintball comp and I hang out with my friends over a few drinks, so you should really need to rethink the whole comment of yours above. You seem to slam Android people, however you are no better then the people you are slamming. Your an Apple fanboy, which I enjoy convergence techology. Just as I use XBMC as my media player from my 24tb NAS attached to my TV, and with my new Samsung SIII which has the XBMC remote installed, will stream to XBMC with know extra set up required. Just play the movie or pick the photo and select the streaming option, then it streams to the XBMC server the phone is connected to.

        What you need to do Corey is leave us Android people alone, so iPhones do have some things that are better the Android, Android has some things that are better then iPhones, Each to thier own. I choose Android cause android is thre better soloution to my needs from a smart phone. Just like most people on my building at work. I work is software development where the split would be around 60% to 40% in Android’s favour. Does this mean Android is better, NO. Just means most of the people here enjoy what Android allows them to do, over iOS.

          • Why do we need to keep up with the iOS world???
            We don’t use it, so why should we???
            In fact if an Android user was following everying in iOS, I would first slap them, then call them stupid. If they like iOS features, then they should of brought an iPhone

  • Corey – your first post was a informative and a good argument. Your replying to every single post here – twice or three times – and increasing arrogance and dickheadedness though has outed you as a rabid fanboi. An unemployed one too going by the amount of time you’ve put into this.

    • Lol. Also I haven’t seen Android people seeing themselves as “elitest” I just tend to see people who are into technology using the droid platform, that’s not to say its exclusive, just something I have noticed. All this hate is just making the tech community seem like a bunch of petty idiots – people have these things called preferences? any one platform could be technically more proficient however its not that hard for someone to have and enjoy using the other because they like it more…

      • Yup.. at the end of the day, I like having direct access to the File System on my phone, period. That’s the only reason I wanted a non-iPhone. It’s not about customisation.. it’s about personal preference.

  • Hooray for Kato and Hazboticus, well said and both have nailed it. I’m an iPhone user and love Jailbreaking but I can also see how great Android is as well. It’s just preference at the end of the day. I work in Desktop Support so I can say that I’m pretty techno savvy and enjoy having a banter with Android users in my team. Hell I might even get a pre paid Samsung Android for my wife so I can have a good root (tee hee) 🙂

  • I dunno.. an Android is “out of the box” customisable.. an iPhone requires that your break Apple’s TOS to customise it in the way suggested here. It’s been proven that it is not against the law to jailbreak.. but you’re breaking the TOS.. so effectively telling Apple to feck off and you don’t want their support or products… except their hardware of course. Sounds a little counter-intuitive to me..

    I’ve not tried it.. so I can’t really comment on the “hardness” of it by comparison.. but I certainly don’t find Android “hard” or “annoying” to customise…. it’s all very straightforward…

  • i’ve noticed something , and i think everyone did too
    the iPhone user thinks themselves better/higher class than other people .

    they got very upset when someone attacks Apple’s products or threaten their ego. you then see the angry beast. for android users it is abit relaxed then iOS users and you can see this clearly here
    android users reply once or twice max 3 times if he is an angry person but iOS users ( corey ) is reply every single post and this proves the issue.
    same as when some apps were released for android ( instagram and flipboard) iOS users were very upset, this is very bad

  • ” I’ll always miss the ability to install custom keyboards like Swype and SwiftKey ”

    thats not true… when i used to jailbreak i had swype as a keyboard on my ipod touch

  • I really think Android is a crap interface and that iOS is a better product as a whole, my opinion, nothing more or less. But that Corey bloke is getting right on my tits. Cut it out!

  • Recently a buddy of mine bought himself an iphone4s, iam owning a sgs2. So the discussion Apple vs Android just broke out again and thats why iam stumbled over this article and why my comment is a little late compared to time this article was written.

    Iam using tasker with my s2 and i want to know which of my profiles and tasks can be accomplished on the iphone.

    Of course i set up easy things like
    -turning on gps along with google maps or navigation.
    -Setting brightness higher while watching video.
    -Turning on Wifi when reaching home. (This is not location based, tasker turns on wifi every 10mins for 30sec to look if my router is near, which is more battery friendly than tracking location all the time)
    -Turning wifi off if i get out of my routers range
    -while iam at home, my keyguard is disabled (not meaning that i dont have to enter a pin in order to unlock, but not having to unlock the phone at all. Means that i see my homescreen right after turning on the screen)
    -while headset is plugged and iam not at home, tasker will read sms to me, pick up calls automatically and tells me the time if i press a certain button on my bt headset.
    -while headset is not plugged, speakerphone will be turned on during a active call if i move the device away from my ear and turns speakerphone off if i put it back on my ear.

    little more advanced:
    -by sending an email to my google acc, i can remotely lock, locate or make the phone ring loud. Tasker also answers via email about the phones location or that the device has been successfully locked.
    – a task that turns off display and asks for a pin on next unlock
    -similar to the task before but shutting the device down instead of just turning off the display.
    -a task which acts like a time laps app (sadly without putting the taken pictures together to generate a movie)
    -a “perfect egg” task which looks up my altitude via gps in order to calculate the exact boiling point of water. u also have to get the weight of the egg and tell the task whether the egg comes out of the fridge or has room temperature and whether u want it soft or hard boiled. After done so, the task sets up a timer with the theoretically perfect boiling time. (only flaw is that air pressure is not considered)
    -a alarm clock which uses proximity sensor to toggle snooze

    The next 1, iam really proud of:

    little information before: Iam working at QVC germany, all of us (about 450) call center agents have to call the shift hotline every Thursday at 4pm to get the shifts for the next week. Logically the earlier u get through the hold line, the wider is the range of shifts u can choose from.

    I made a task which becomes active at 3.59 pm, then waits 30sec and calls the hotline. After another 15sec it simulates pressing the button 1 to enter a submenu and again 15sec later it simulates pressing the 1 again to enter the final submenu. Shortly after a wizard like task launches which helps me to enter the shifts into my google calendar and also looks for early starting shifts to set up my alarm clock properly.
    -if tasker knows iam at work because of calendar entry it enters flight mode. (just silencing it makes no sence in my case because the building contains so much metal that the phone has to use full power to get like half the bars)

    All of this has been set up by me with literally no programming skills.

    Not used by me, but sounds very handy: a task which shows a flashlight toggle button only if the light level is low.

    Ill take my hat off (german phrase to admit defeat ^^), if similar things r possible on iphone without programming skills.

    In my opinion, customizing android provides not only more possibilities, its also much easier than doing it with ios

    It is Tasker which makes ur smartphone smart!!

    Greets Chillmann

  • Uhh ….. after reading all the comments , I felt like I’m an idiot .. always think that iPhone sucks , but , iOS really had more tweaks than android ,example split screen multitasking . Some apps like jubeat plus and reflex beat plus , had not made alvalable for android .. mind you , I’m also an end user , changing ROMs , performance tweaks , using v6 supercharger… wish that android dev will catch up in apps dev and slow down all the firmware updates as devs cannot catch up to dev a stable software for us android to use .

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