This question gets asked pretty frequently.
Unlocking is the easier to explain… it refers to removing the “locks” that carriers place on phones to prevent them from being used on other networks. This has nothing to do with anything other than protecting their bottom dollar. Phones are typically “carrier-subsidized,” which is why you can get a free phone with a 2-year contract. The Carrier makes their money back, and then some, by your 24 monthly payments. This isn’t really a fair practice if you consider that there are hundreds of thousands of people who travel and are forced to pay international roaming (data and voice) rates! Sure, you can request the phone be unlocked, but it isn’t always a sure thing that it’ll be done in time (or at all.) This is why I unlock all my phones as soon as I buy them. Despite the January 26, 2013 deadline imposed by the Librarian of Congress there are plenty of ways of legally unlocking your phones. (Subtext: why is the Librarian leveraging legal code from 1998, well before the concept of unlocking was even whispered on the lips of the knowing? Hmmm)
Jailbreaking iPhones is the concept that some, for a myriad of reasons, would like to avoid Apple’s restriction to install Apps solely from it’s App Store. There are some other benefits, especially if you have an intense desire to modify the iOS with “tweaks” and utilities. With all of the recent advances in the iOS, it’s become less attractive and usually reserved for the more serious developer/tinker types. Another question that gets asked (thanks Trisha!) is whether or not jailbreaking your iPhone will prevent you from installing App Store apps… the answer is yes, absolutely. In fact, it has no impact other than the occasional crash (as seen as a spontaneous reboot to the Apple symbol).
Also, while there’s been a big stink about owners complaining Apple Store Geniuses won’t take back jailbroken iPhones, one simply needs to Erase All Content and Settings (Settings→ General→ Reset) and they likely won’t give you any problems. Make sure you backup before ever taking your device in for repair or potential replacement!
Want to find out if your iPhone can be unlocked? Check here.
Post your questions! I’d love to hear from you.
“Stop suffering in Silence!”