When you buy an Android or iOS device, its operating system is strictly regulated. The only things you can do with your device are those permitted by the developer.
Yet a whole world of unofficial modifications and software exists outside approved app stores.
Accessing it requires modifying the software on your device to remove any restrictions, in a process known as jailbreaking or rooting.
These terms are often used interchangeably to describe gaining access to a device’s entire file system, though people generally jailbreak Apple devices and root Android ones.
It’s important not to confuse these terms with unlocking, which allows a device to be used on different mobile networks.
Is jailbreaking illegal?
The UK’s Copyright and Related Rights Regulations 2003 say breaking the technical protection on software is acceptable, providing it’s not done to infringe a third party’s copyright.
That basically relates to watching illegal torrents or playing pirated games.
Although it’s not illegal to tinker with a device you own, the manufacturer and OS developer won’t honour the warranty on a jailbroken phone or tablet.
Apple and Android evaluate every approved app for safety, and they rigorously test the stability of installed software to ensure it will work in as many scenarios as possible.
Software published outside official app stores might be malicious or unstable, so there’s no coverage for damage caused by unapproved modifications or third-party code.
What are the risks?
Firstly, unapproved software may contain malware or a virus, designed to steal or destroy personal data.
Android and Apple reject apps for reasons including offensive content, security flaws or excessive data harvesting.
Apps that haven’t been properly tested might crash devices, drain batteries or cause random reboots.
If you’ve never attempted anything like this before, jailbreaking a device could go wrong and damage the OS – rooting can’t always be undone.
So if it’s risky, why do people do it?
There are several reasons why people prefer to root or jailbreak their phones:
- Apps and games might be rejected from official app stores even though some people would enjoy and appreciate them. Unofficial app stores represent the only other way to access these programs.
- Jailbreaking a device gives the user scope to install their preferred web browser, adjust display settings and fonts, etc.
- Some manufacturers pack their devices with proprietary bloatware that can’t be removed, but jailbreaking lets owners delete space-hogging bloatware that might drain the battery or processor.
- Having full control over a device allows you to free up additional storage on the hard drive, or even clock the CPU to run more quickly (which improves performance) or slowly (to extend battery life).
How do I go about jailbreaking my device?
A quick Google search will reveal software designed to jailbreak iOS or Android devices.
The former are unlocked with tools like Pangu, while rooting toolkits for Android include dr.fone and Root Genius.
A degree of technical knowledge is advisable, but many tools come with detailed instructions.
Free tools are often recommended on forums and message boards, but be aware that malicious code can be disguised as a genuine jailbreaking tool and given false reviews.
Finally, since software updates are constantly trying to close loopholes used to jailbreak a device, you’ll need to disable automatic updates.