If you own an iPhone and you’re fairly technical, then you’ve no doubt gone through the steps necessary to “jailbreak” your iPhone – the process that opens up the phone to allow for the installation of unapproved third-party applications. However, for the non-technical consumers who are now purchasing the iPhone in droves, this final, critical step in making the device more usable is often unknown or overlooked.

Jailbreaking vs. Unlocking

Simply put, “jailbreaking” is a straightforward process that allows you to install unapproved third-party applications on your device. It is sometimes confused with “unlocking” – the process that makes the phone capable of working on other carriers besides AT&T (in the U.S., that is).

Although very different from each other, both processes are unapproved by Apple and will void your warranty. Still, a non-jailbroken phone is only half the phone it could be. The extra functionality it allows for makes it worth the risk. Besides, if you ever do need to return it for warranty repairs, you can always wipe it clean and reinstall the firmware. (Just call Apple tech support and have them walk you through the process, explaining that you’re sending it in for repairs and are concerned about privacy. Ask them to help you reinstall it to its original, out-of-the-box state.)

Why Jailbreak?

Apple, in their infinite wisdom, locked down the iPhone in a number of ways, hampering its ability to do basic tasks like record video, zoom in when taking photos, or apply a theme to your homescreen. They may have been right to do so – many cell phone owners have had devices with this functionality for years, but could never understand how to access those functions. Those features made the phone “too confusing” to use, complained cell phones owners.

However, for the most part, those who were struggling with the technicalities of recording a video on their phone were from an older generation – ones who didn’t grow up with cell phones and their “new-fangled” capabilities. For everyone else, these types of features are somewhat expected in modern devices, especially those as advanced as the iPhone. And the fact that Apple’s smartphone doesn’t include these options is something that’s often surprising to new owners.

How To Jailbreak

To learn to how to jailbreak your phone, you can simply do a web search, but the sites indexed are sometimes either out-of-date or a bit confusing for the less technical users. However, I personally found the steps at iphone-hacks.com very easy to follow thanks to the screenshots that accompanied the step-by-step directions. The full instructions are too detailed for a post like this, but you can follow the steps yourself using these provided links: Steps for Windows users / Steps for Mac users.

The Best Jailbroken Apps

Obviously, a list of the best apps for jailbroken phones is one that is entirely subjective. However the apps listed here are the ones that add functionality to the phone that we wish had been included out of the box.

Record Video

The iPhone is capable of recording video, but there is no way to do so without an “un-jailbroken” device. One such application that allows you to record video is the Cycorder application. It records videos formatted as QuickTime (.mov) files which are stored in the iPhone at /var/mobile/Media/Videos. To get the videos off the device, you’ll need another application as described here, such as the iPhoneBrowser for Windows.

Upload to YouTube

If you upload all your videos to YouTube anyway, you may want to forgo Cycorder in favor of iPhone Video Recorder. There is both a 2G and 3G version of this application. With this app, you can record video, select your video mode (orientation/size), choose your encoder (MPEG-4 or MOV), and share the videos. Videos can either be uploaded directly to YouTube or shared via email.

Record Video and Stream it Live

Another video recording option is to stream live video directly to the internet. Two applications are available for this: Qik and Flixwagon. We’ve covered both of these applications before, including this “how-to” guide to using Qik. My personal preference is Qik, since I was already a member of the service. Qik also offers a higher resolution and frame rate.

A Zoomable Camera

The camera on the iPhone only does one thing: it takes pictures. Even though the iPhone camera is not the best, a few more options would be nice for those of us who are regular cameraphone photographers. An app called Snapture is a much better camera application. The free version adds 12 advanced camera features like gesture zoom, color modes, and multi-shot. A Premium version ($7.99) removes ads and enables an advanced QuickView System which allows you to sort through, delete, and email photos easily. Premium users also get access to the beta features first.

Use A Modem

If you’re used to tethering your smartphone to your computer as a backup or emergency internet connection, the iPhone leaves you without the option because, by default, tethering is not permitted. The iPhoneModem is an application that can help. With this app installed, you can share your iPhone’s internet connection with either your Mac or PC. It can even run in the background while you run other apps. If you make heavy use of this application, you’ll want to also download the helper app that automatically configures your computer and then reconfigures it back when you disconnect.

Add Themes

If you like making things your own, you may be disappointed that the only customizations you can make with your iPhone are changing the background and reorganizing your apps. Out of the box, the iPhone background only displays when your phone is locked – it does not show up behind your applications like desktop wallpaper would. To really customize your iPhone, you need an application like WinterBoard or SummerBoard.

We’re not sure what’s with the season-inspired names, but WinterBoard is definitely our favorite, as it replaces the apparently abandoned SummerBoard. With this app installed, you can change the entire theme for your iPhone including the homescreen’s background, the icons themselves, and the status bar. There are tons of themes to choose from, from your favorite movie to a stylized bookshelf. (Hack that Phone shows some screenshots as does Apple iPhone School – also check their related links for more).

Customize More

An app called BossPrefs is a replacement for the preferences settings on the iPhone. One of the most useful settings the application provides is a quick way to shut off the iPhone’s 3G service – a real battery drainer. With BossPrefs, it’s only one tap away from the homescreen whereas the iPhone native Settings app has it buried several layers deep. The other key feature of BossPrefs is its ability to hide icons – even the ones that shipped with the phone. Not everyone wants “Stocks” for example, so it’s nice to be able to clear some space for other apps you use instead. BossPrefs lets you configure a lot more, too, but we think those are the two best features it offers.

Enjoy!

We realize this guide is far from a comprehensive listing of apps, but these are just some of our personal favorites for making the iPhone more usable. Feel free to share your favorites with us, too.

Image credit: Jailbroekn iPhone screen, Phil Campbell