You may have heard the term jailbreaking before, but been put off the idea of messing about with your iPhone or iPod. However, it's now easier, more stable and safer than ever, and there are huge benefits to be had.
What is jailbreaking?
For the uninitiated, jailbreaking is simply the process of enabling read and write access to otherwise locked files on an iPhone, iPod or iPad. There are many benefits of doing this, including the ability to install custom programs that aren't available on Apple's App Store, plus customise your device in ways that Apple doesn't currently allow.
For example, Apple doesn't allow FaceTime video calling over 3G. When you jailbreak your device, you can do this and much more (including installing Siri on an iPhone other than the 4S).
See also: How to protect your iPhone from Theft
Is jailbreaking illegal?
The short answer is that there's nothing in UK law that specifically says it's illegal to hack your device in this way. The relevant UK law is the Copyright and Related Rights Regulations 2003. This basically says that it's okay to break technical measures such as Digital Rights Management (DRM) for interoperability reasons, but not for the purposes of infringing copyright.
As with most laws, it's down to a judge's interpretation of terms such as 'interoperability' to decide whether you've broken the law or not. So far, there hasn't been a test case to set a legal precedent in the UK and chances are, there won't be one.
A word of warning, though. Jailbreaking and rooting are advanced techniques that the inexperienced or risk-averse should not attempt. It's hacking and if done improperly has the potential to turn your phone into an expensive paperweight. You will most likely void the warranty, too.
With that disclaimer out of the way, we'd like to point out that we've never had a problem and it's possible to reverse the jailbreak by restoring your phone to factory settings, leaving the warranty intact.
How to jailbreak an iPhone
We'll focus on the iPhone 4 here, as the warranty will have expired on most handsets. The process is largely the same for other models (including iPod touches and iPad), so the principles still apply.
Before you start, back up your device in iTunes or iCloud. To force a backup in iTunes, right-click on your device in the list on the left and click Back Up.
It's also important to understand the difference between tethered and untethered jailbreaks. The former is something you don't want, as you'll need to connect your phone to a computer in order to reboot it. An untethered jailbreak means you can reboot the phone without consequence: everything will still work afterwards.
Also bear in mind that you must not update your iPhone's software when Apple releases an update. If you do so, it will overwrite the jailbreak and delete all the custom apps you've installed and settings you've made.
The following instructions work for devices running firmware 5.0.1. There is already an updated version of Redsn0w available for 5.1, but this is tethered, so you'll probably want to wait for an untethered version. If you want to jailbreak an Apple A5-powered device such as the iPhone 4S or iPad 2, you'll need Absinthe rather than Redsn0w.
We'll be using Redsn0w as it has always worked flawlessly for us, but there are a variety of other tools available. Download Redsn0w for Windows. Extract the files to a folder and then right-click on the Redsn0w application and choose Run as administrator. When the application launches, click the Jailbreak button.
Connect your iPhone (4 or 3GS) or fourth-generation iPod touch to your computer and power it off by holding the power button until the slider appears. Wait until the phone has completely shut down before proceeding. Redsn0w looks for your device in DFU recovery mode. This is how to enter it:
- 1. Press and hold the power button for 3 seconds
- 2. Continue to hold the power button and press and hold the Home button for 10 seconds. The Apple logo should disappear during this step.
- 3. Release the power button and continue to hold the Home button until your device is in recovery mode. Your computer might detect new hardware or iTunes might launch and warn you that it has found a device in DFU mode.
If you don't manage to press the buttons at the right times, don't worry: just close Redsn0w and start again. If your iPhone or iPod locks up, press and hold the power and home buttons simultaneously until it restarts.
Once in DFU mode Redsn0w will interrogate your device and ensure it's compatible. When complete, you will be presented with some options. Tick the box to install Cydia and click Next. The jailbreaking process is automatic, and you'll see commands scrolling down your device's screen and a pineapple logo - this is all normal. When your phone finally restarts, unlock it and check that the Cydia app is there: this is the only outward sign that your device is jailbroken.
NEXT PAGE: Getting started with Cydia
Getting started with Cydia
Cydia is an alternative to the App Store, and you can use both to add new apps to your phone or iPod. Apps installed through Cydia can be updated and removed only in Cydia. Many apps are free, but some cost a pound or two. To buy anything, you'll need to sign up for an account. Tap the Manage Account button and sign in with Google or Facebook. Amazon and PayPal are used for billing.
Here are our recommendations for what to install first:
1. SBSettings (free). Adds a selection of toggle switches to the Notification pull-down menu in iOS 5 giving fast access to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Brightness, 3G and other controls. SBSettings also lets you change the carrier text to your own custom text. To do this, load the SBSettings app, scroll down to System Wide Options and tap System Options. Tap Custom Carrier (MakeItMine) and enter the text, giffgaff, for example and tap Set Carrier.
2. Activator (free). Lets you redefine what happens when you press buttons or use certain gestures.
3. SpringFlash (free). In conjunction with Activator, SpringFlash lets you enable the LED flash to use as a torch by pressing one of your phone's buttons.
4. WinterBoard (free). A theming app that allows you to completely change the look of icons and the Lock Screen. We recommend the Elite Pro HD 2012 theme, shown below, which costs $5 (approx. £3). This includes new icons for system apps, loading screens, custom Lock Screens, Wallpapers, plus skins for almost all system apps.
5. Barrel ($3, approx. £1.80). This great app enables various transitions between Home screens, including the amusing Pac-Man where icons whirl into view.
6. Spire (free). This installs Siri onto an iPhone 4, 3GS or fourth-gen iPod Touch.
7. Five Icon Dock (free). When installed, you can add a fifth icon to the dock at the bottom of the Home screen when in 'wiggle' mode.
See also: our step-by-step guide to installing and configuring Siri using Spire and i4Siri.