Jailbreak Your iPad (Plus 8 Things to Do With It)

Add multitasking, connect to a Bluetooth mouse, sync over Wi-Fi, and more--all without waiting for iOS 4.
  • (PC World (US online))
  • — 01 July, 2010 01:21

Apple's iOS 4 enables multitasking and other new and useful features, but the iPad can't join the party until this fall. If you jailbreak your iPad, however, you can multitask today--and that's just the beginning.

Your jailbroken iPad can run all kinds of third-party apps far beyond the selection in Apple's App Store. Want to sync over Wi-Fi, connect a Bluetooth GPS or mouse, and browse the entire iPad file structure? Here's how.

Jailbreaking Basics

Jailbreaking your iPad lets you install third-party utilities and applications. (That's different from "unlocking," which allows you to use a device with a different phone carrier.) When jailbroken, the iPad becomes an actual computer in that you can tweak the interface and make modifications at the lowest levels. This is a double-edged sword: You could run unstable tools or even damage your device, although that's highly unlikely. Remember that with your jailbroken iPad, Apple isn't around to tell you what you can and can't do with it--for better or for worse.

Fortunately, if you pay attention to what you're doing, you can run the warranty-voiding process without incident--and if you change your mind later, you can return to Apple's default, locked-down environment.

How to Jailbreak Your iPad

As with all major installations, begin with a backup. Connect the iPad to your computer. In the left iTunes column, right-click the iPad's name, and pick Backup. You can restore your data from here if needed.

Download Spirit to jailbreak the iPad. Note that the jailbreak process depends highly on your version of iTunes and iOS. As of this writing, Spirit hadn't yet been updated to work with iTunes 9.2; be sure that you have an older version of iTunes or that Spirit now supports iTunes 9.2 before proceeding. The jailbreaking community usually compensates for Apple's updates within several days or weeks.

Unplug other iPod devices, and connect your iOS 3.2 iPad directly to your computer. Run Spirit. The process will modify and restart the iPad; leave everything alone until the process is complete. Did it work? Great.

If it didn't work--as happened to me initially--quit Spirit and restore your iPad in iTunes. If iTunes won't even recognize the iPad, kick it into DFU (device firmware upgrade) mode. Connect the iPad, and hold the lock and home buttons for 10 seconds. Release the lock button, but continue holding the home button. The screen should stay black, but the iPad should appear in iTunes. Restore the iPad, and then reattempt the jailbreak.

Again, if you ever get cold feet and want to revert to your iPad's original state, just restore the iPad in iTunes. If iTunes doesn't recognize the iPad, put it in DFU mode first.

What to Do After You Jailbreak Your iPad

After completing the jailbreak, you'll see a new icon named Cydia. This is the center for downloading free and paid apps and tweaks. These apps coexist with your App Store programs, so you don't have to commit to one or the other.

Cydia connects to various sources to download and install packages. Though Cydia includes its trusted sources by default, you can add others. (I'll explain how later.) You can also download other stores, such as Rock App; Rock even includes a way for you to try demos of many downloads before purchase.

When you launch Cydia, it will check the version numbers of your apps against its latest files and prompt you to install updates if necessary. Even if you don't want any more apps, open Cydia once in a while to look for updates.

Before you dig through the Cydia options, back up your iPad's ECID SHSH--an identification code that Apple uses to determine which devices can install what firmware--with the Cydia server. If, in the future, you accidentally install an iOS update that defeats jailbreaking, you should be able to use this backup to revert to the prior, jailbreak-friendly version of the OS. Within Cydia, approve the backup when first prompted with a dialog box, or pick the option within the main page.

Your iPad also now has a default, root login that anyone could guess. Since Cydia and various apps can enable additional network functionality, set a new password. Follow the directions under 'Root Password How-To' in Cydia; basically, you'll install a terminal program and enter a few commands.

Add Multitasking

Apple's iOS 4 only partially multitasks. Apps need to be written for multitasking--the feature isn't enabled for everything--and further restrictions dictate what apps can do in the background. With a jailbroken iPad, however, you can multitask with any app. This comes in handy in various ways, permitting you to leave a cooking-timer app active, for instance, or to pause a game that doesn't save.

To add multitasking, install Backgrounder (free). Tap Search within Cydia to find it.

If you press the home button, the iPad will quit apps as it normally does. But if you hold the button for several seconds, a message will appear, saying that the program will keep running in the background. (If you want to quit an app later, repeat this process to exit completely.)

Keep an eye out, too, for an iPad update to the Multifl0w iPhone tool. This multitasking add-on swaps between active applications, showing a preview of the other apps.

Sync Over Wi-Fi

Tired of connecting over USB to sync with iTunes? Cut the cord, and sync through Wi-Fi. The process is slower than that of USB, but it works well. Within Cydia, search for and install Wi-Fi Sync ($10)

Install the companion utility on your computer. Then, with iTunes open, run Wi-Fi Sync on the iPad. iTunes will recognize the connected iPad, and you can initiate a sync from the app.

Add a Bluetooth Mouse

Apps occasionally feel like they need a mouse. You can connect most Bluetooth mice--but not the Mighty Mouse--through BTstack Mouse. Search for and install the free app through Cydia.

Once BTstack Mouse is installed, run the app and set your mouse to discoverable mode. Pick it out, and the app will superimpose a mouse pointer on the screen. Click just as if you were on a traditional computer.

BTstack Mouse disables Apple's built-in Bluetooth protocol. If you want to connect a keyboard as well, install BTstack Keyboard ($5) too.

Manage Your Files as You Do on a PC

Without a file browser, it's hard to get documents on and off the iPad. So install one. The free iFile lets you rummage through the iPad's disk structure; search for and install it through Cydia.

Once launched, iFile can also set itself up as a file server, so you can access files back on a computer. Tap the antenna icon at the bottom of the screen, and connect to the listed address on a Web browser.

Add GPS Through Bluetooth

BTstack GPS connects to a range of Bluetooth GPS devices; if you have a Wi-Fi iPad, you can enable GPS for most apps. Search for and install the free app through Cydia.

I connected a DeLorme Earthmate Blue Logger GPS unit. To set up your GPS device, open the BTstack GPS app, set the device to discoverable, and select it in the iPad. Once you have a clear satellite signal, the iPad will recognize your location.

Play Classic Games

On the App Store, Apple doesn't allow applications that run executable code. That shuts out one of my favorite entertainment apps, ScummVM (free). The classic LucasArts adventure games from the 1990s--and many others--ran on the SCUMM engine, and this application can play those games. You just need to track down copies of the original games; for many people, that's simply a matter of looking in the closet.

To get the latest ScummVM release, install a new source within Cydia. Tap More Package Sources in the main Cydia screen, and pick UrbanFanatics.com. Tap Install. Now, search for ScummVM, and install the free app.

Transfer your games to the iPad. I used the iFile server feature, moving the files through a Web browser. Open up ScummVM, locate the directory with the games, and begin playing.

Customize the Interface

After sampling many of the terrible interface tweaks available, you might appreciate Apple's design even more. Still, some tweaks add great features.

My favorite iPad-compatible interface tweak, Infiniboard ($2), lets you place as many app icons on a page as you want. When you get to the bottom of the screen, you just scroll down to see the rest. It's a simple way to organize apps without running out of room.

Music Controls ($5) adds an interface for background audio apps. It supports dozens of other apps, including Pandora, Slacker, and the default iPod app. Music Controls gives you many control options, too, such as putting buttons and song info in the Status Bar and even using swipe gestures to control background apps.

Run iPhone Apps Full Screen (With Better Results)

Though you can blow up iPhone-only apps to fit much of the iPad's screen, the result is chunky and the process is a weak workaround. Instead of waiting for native, higher-resolution editions, try the free FullForce (available via Cydia), which sharply renders apps with great results and a few caveats.

Apps that aren't constrained to two-dimensional art look the best. Text-driven apps and many 3D games can look great. In my tests, Pandemonium, Remote, Stair Dismount, and others looked like native apps. Try your favorites to see what works.

You're Free!

These apps and tweaks are just the surface; be sure to browse through the hundreds of apps and utilities in Cydia to find more.

As you use your hacked iPad, avoid iPad updates from Apple, since they can revert your device to the non-jailbroken state. But once Spirit or another tool is compatible, you can run the Apple update and then jailbreak your iPad again.

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Zack Stern

PC World (US online)
Topics: Apple, apple ipad, hardware systems, laptops, tablet PCs, tablets
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