All About Smartphones: Important Terms You Should Know Before Buying Apple Devices

Friday, November 23, 2012

Important Terms You Should Know Before Buying Apple Devices

At a time in the history of telephone, you only use the device to make and receive calls. As technology advances, phones can not only make & receive calls but also had the capacity to send and receive messages. I remember Nokia 3310 being one of those phones. Later, phones started having the capability to connect to the internet like in the days of WAP, GPRS and EDGE. However, that was then. Now, they are not just phones anymore; they are now called Smartphones. Phones that can make and receive calls, send messages, browse the internet using 3G&4G technology, wifi included, camera and so on.
in fact, the parrallel line between a PC and a smartphone is becoming less parallel and it looks like in the near future it will meet.
Certainly, children of this generation may not remember phones like Nokia 3310, Alcatel and the likes and the roles they played in the lives of our older parents and grandpas.
For the older peeps out there trying out these new kinds of phones called "Smartphones", many new terms which may not have a IT related definition in the dictionary e.g jailbreak, retina display, image stability etc have to be explained to them so that they can make better choices when either purchasing a smartphone (used or new), or modifying their smartphone.
Consequently, I will make attempt to define some terms used in the Apple smartphone world.

1. Jailbreak
*Jailbreaking is the process of removing the limitations imposed by Apple on devices running the iOS operating system through the use of software exploits – such devices include the iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, and second generation Apple TV. Jailbreaking allows iOS users to gain root access to the operating system, allowing them to download additional applications, extensions, and themes that are unavailable through the official Apple Store.
In other words, the term Jailbreak is used for Apple devices like iPhone, iPod, iPad and Apple TV.
There are 3 kinds of jailbreak namely: Tethered, Semi -tethered and Untethered jailbreak
  • Tethered jailbreak means that the device will get stuck on the Apple logo when restarted or switched off & on anytime and won't come on except it is boot up using a jailbreak tool
  • Semi-tethered jailbreak means that the device will boot up normally when restarted or switched off & on anytime but some apps will not function well 
  • Untethered jailbreak means that the device will come on and all apps will function well when rebooted.
Untethered is the best method of jailbreak and only available for some iOS version yet.

How do you know an Apple device had been jailbroken?
Most jailbroken Apple devices have an app called Cydia installed. Cydia is a repository for apps, theme and other files, that allows you to download app on an Apple device (Cydia icon is shown below)
Cydia icon

*Source: Wikipedia

2. Hacktivation
Hacktivation is the process of circumventing the standard Apple activation process with iTunes. Hacktivation is required when using an iPhone or iPad without an authorized carrier.
This can be achieved using Redsn0w or Absinthe.

Some people don't have the authorized carrier sim card to use with an Apple phone, so to use the sim of an unauthorized carrier,the Apple device would be hacktivated. This is usually common when the phone is not factory unlocked but tied to an authorized carrier.
How do you know an Apple device had been hacktivated?
If the sim card in the device is not authorized and network bars are displayed, then the device had been hacktivated

3. Wildcard Activation
When an Apple device is wildcard activated, it means that legitimate means was used to activated the device via iTunes or while setting up the device for first time use.
This consequently means that an authorized carrier or sim card was used to activate the device for first time use.
To know if a device is Wildcard activated, you can use a software like iTools.

4. Factory Activation
When a device is Factory activated, it means that an illegitimate way had been used to activate the device. Illegitimate in the sense that the device wasn't activated using iTunes or the recommended way by Apple. That is, the device was hacktivated
iTools can also be used to know the activation method used.

5. Factory Unlock
A factory unlocked device is a device that is not tied to or locked to any particular device. This means that any carrier or sim card can be used on it.
This is usually done by Apple alone. However, authorized carriers like AT&T could factory unlock an Apple device if you do request for it when certain terms are met.
A strong indicator that a device is factory unlocked is when it accepts all sim cards.

6. Hardware Unlock
This is a kind of unlock method that uses a sim interposer, i.e, a chip between the sim card reader in the device and the actual sim card inserted into the device that allows an unauthorized sim card or carrier to be used on an Apple device.

To know if a device is hardware unlocked, one have to manually, eject the sim tray. If a chip is found underneath the sim card, then it is a hardware unlock solution performed on the device.
Example of such chips are Gevey, RSIM etc.
Gevey Sim and Tray

7. Software Unlock
This is a kind of unlock that is done using software, i.e a code is installed that unlocks the device thereby allowing unauthorized sim cards or carriers to be used on the device.
This is only possible if the device is jailbroken.
An example of a software that achieves this is ultrasn0w/ultrasn0w fixer which can be downloaded through Cydia.

8. Baseband or Firmware
All Apple devices have a baseband or firmware that are on them.
BaseBand is the Cellular (Mobile) Firmware of your Apple device. It can be upgraded, downgraded or preserved.
It is usually a series of numbers. e.g, 04.10.01, 04.11.08, 06.00.15
To find out the baseband or firmware of any idevice, follow these steps.
Click on Settings, General, About and then scroll down to Firmware Version. The number written on the left hand side is the baseband of the device. see the image below

9. iOS
This is the operating system that runs on all Apple devices. The latest version of this operating system is 6.0.1 and Apple has already released 6.1 beta 2 to developers for testing purposes.
The version of the iOS running on an Apple device can be found from the same page as the About section described above.

10. Jailbreaking Software
These are softwares that can be used to jailbreak any Apple device. They are usually installed on a PC, iMac or via the internet and then the phones can be connected to run the exploits. Example of such softwares are: Redsn0w, Sn0wbreeze and Absinthe. 
These softwares are free to download and are created by season programmers and coders. 
It is important to note that recently fake tools of Absinthe have surfaced on the internet. These could damage a device if used. Consequently download jailbreak softwares only from reliable sites.

Well, the 10 terms above should suffice for now. More terms will be added to the ones listed above so stay tuned and drop your comments.

If you intend to buy a used or new Apple device, it would be wise to know some of these terms just in case you have plans of jailbreaking or updating the iOS of the device.
Some devices with certain basebands cannot be unlocked using the hardware or software means. Also, some devices cannot be jailbroken yet.
Therefore, it is imperative that anyone who wishes to buy an Apple device should understand some of the terms described above.

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