Cydia: Making iOS more like Android, one tweak at a time

By Nathaniel Mott , written on February 5, 2013

From The News Desk

My first day with a jailbroken iPhone didn't go so well. I, like others, found that Cydia was all-but-unreachable all day yesterday, preventing me from downloading any of the goodies available from the store and leaving a single brown icon as the only proof that I had even changed anything. Today's gone a little bit better, and I've managed to install a few of the add-ons that led me to jailbreaking in the first place.

I also realized that I was doing my best to turn my iPhone into an Android phone.

The first add-on I installed, SBSettings, offers a bevy of features that I've only just started to use. So far, the main appeal has been the addition of a SBSettings "drawer" offering quick access to brightness, wireless, location, and bluetooth settings, among others. Android offers this functionality as a standard feature, and it's one of those things that you don't notice until it isn't there anymore.

Next up was Auxo, a re-imagination of the fast-app switcher (that tray of icons that shows up when you double-tap the Home button) that started its life as a concept in The Verge's forums. Instead of showing a row of app icons, which offers little context as to what's going on within each app, Auxo adds a small thumbnail image showing each app's status. Users can "kill" an app by swiping down on its thumbnail, removing the need to tap, hold, wait for the jiggle, and tap on a tiny red dot in order to kill an app. (Yes, I know that this feature is abused and that Apple made it a pain on purpose because iOS does a good job of handling itself. But that doesn't mean an app doesn't need to get the axe every now and then.)

Again, this is a standard feature on Android devices. The implementation is slightly different -- Android asks users to swipe thumbnails to the right to kill them, instead of flicking them to the bottom of the device -- but the principle is the same. So far we're two-for-two.

Other appealing tweaks or software available from Cydia, including a number of "add widgets to your home screen!" add-ons or emulators, are also standard on Android or freely available in the Play Store. Some tweaks solve problems unique to iOS, like the "BlurriedNCBackground" tweak I installed to kill the horrible linen background in Notification Center.

Every appealing piece of software I've found in Cydia either mimics Android's functionality, patches a problem with iOS, or seems like something that you install to show your friends how cool jailbreaking is (tweaks that mess with apps by adding gravity or having them fly away, anyone?). And you know what? That's just fine.

There are a lot of things Android does well. The operating system has come a long way since its introduction, and has largely left the bugginess and horrible design of pre-Gingerbread or Ice Cream Sandwich releases behind. But there are still some people who find themselves with an iPhone instead of a Nexus 4 or Galaxy whatever, whether it's because they can't afford a new device until their contract is up, they prefer the iPhone's hardware to that of Android devices, or because they want access to iPhone-only apps.

Jailbreaking offers the best of both worlds. It's a way to leave Apple's restrictions behind and fix things that bother users about their phones, the devices that they use day in and day out until it kicks the bucket or they're able to get something new. As I discovered yesterday, it won't immediately change how you approach your device, but a little bit of time and patience allows users to pick and choose what they like from the two leading operating systems and have a better experience.

There's something to be said for the fact that jailbreaking can be so appealing, with the right tweaks and mindset. On the one hand it's clear that Google's doing some things right with Android, and that people using an operating system famed for its ease of use and simplicity might prefer Android's way of doing things. On the other it can show that the lock-in effect is very real -- "Why buy an Android phone when I can get a lot of its best features on my iPhone? " isn't as ridiculous a statement as it seems.

[Image courtesy Tsahi Levent-Levi]