It might come as a surprise to discover that smartphone manufacturers are quite restrictive about how we use their products.
Taking photographs and making calls is fine, but what if you want to spread your creative wings and exploit the phone’s full potential?
Pretty soon, you’ll encounter the outer limits of smartphone manufacturers’ walled gardens – the point at which you can’t venture any further without flying the nest.
Taking that step into the unknown is referred to as rooting and jailbreaking, depending on whether it relates to an iPhone or an Android handset.
But what does this mean in practice, and does it bring added risks?
Firstly, let’s consider what you’re not officially allowed to do with an Android or iOS handset.
Only Google or Apple-approved apps can be installed, yet reasons for an app being rejected may be spurious – incorrect paperwork, issues of taste, similarity to other apps, glitches, etc.
Handset buttons will only ever complete their originally prescribed purpose, even if another function would be more convenient or practical.
Manufacturer bloatware can’t be deleted, even though it hogs storage space and drains system resources, cluttering up desktops alongside pre-installed social media apps.
Apart from changing ringtones and wallpapers, there’s very little you can actually do to make a device yours, even though it could easily support bespoke fonts and graphics editing.
Backing up your own data may require multiple websites and subscriptions, despite the fact smartphones could export every saved document and app in a single ZIP file if asked.
Similarly, enthusiastic coders will be frustrated by their inability to bring the best out of software that’s been hermetically sealed against user editing or customisation.
It’s possible to bypass the limitations imposed by Android and iOS, through rooting and jailbreaking.
Installing an unauthorised application breaks down the barriers preventing customisation, such as adjusting the balance between processor speed and battery life.
(This is pre-set to strike a balance by the manufacturer, though it’d benefit many people to adjust the system in favour of either performance or time between charges).
There are three main methods of conducing rooting or jailbreaking. A tethered root involves the phone being plugged into a computer while the software restrictions are bypassed.
Semi-tethered involves repeating the process every time the device is restarted, whereas an untethered root or jailbreak is permanent and enables the phone to operate normally.
This is the most commonly deployed method, and the favoured way of installing ad-blockers, changing the device boot-up animation and anything else.
Software is transferred onto the phone from a desktop or laptop computer and activated remotely, effectively bypassing iOS and Android restrictions.
This might sound like an exciting way to unlock a phone’s full potential, but there are significant risks.
Firstly, many unlocking utilities advertised online are bogus, created purely to install malware or adware onto unsuspecting users’ handsets.
Your warranty will be invalidated, so don’t expect help if the device contracts a virus or stops working. Even resetting the phone to factory defaults won’t cover up what’s happened.
Escaping the creative straitjacket of pre-installed operating systems requires a fair amount of technical expertise, while rooting and jailbreaking is a fiddly and slow process.
Nevertheless, many people have been able to give older phones a new lease of life, making this a viable option for anyone with sufficient desire and determination.