Developers: Jailbreaking spurs Apple innovation
Jailbreaking began with the first-generation iPhone, under the auspices of a band of volunteer programmers called the iPhone Dev Team, which created the first application installer long before Apple launched its iPhone App Store less than a year ago. That installer, named Installer, enabled users to download apps from a variety of repositories at a time when Apple limited customers to the apps it delivered with the phone. Some question whether Apple would have created its own store without the impetus of the rogue Installer.
Apple's App Store has since become a huge success, and analysts agree it is the single differentiator most responsible for continued growth in iPhone sales, enriching both Apple and third-party developers. But Apple's confusing policies on "acceptable" applications continue to rile developers who labor for months over complex apps only to have Apple reject them for nondescript reasons. Rebuffed developers like Alex Sokirynsky, whose app podcaster got bounced by Apple, tried an end run by delivering their apps via the iPhone SDK distribution channel. But Apple quickly blocked this trick.
Then last month Jay Freeman, creator of the popular open source Cydia iPhone installer ("Cydia" refers to a moth larva often considered the "worm in the apple"), announced his own Cydia Store in direct competition with Apple's store. Cydia Store collects the same 30 percent commission from developers, but has few if any restrictions to the applications developers can sell.
"Cydia Store gives users a way to get the powerful applications they want but that Apple doesn't seem to want them to have. And it lets developers reap the rewards of their work without worrying about a last-minute slap-down by Apple," says Freeman, who considers many of Apple's iPhone innovations, including Apple's App Store, to be a direct result of iPhone developer activism. "Without this pressure from developers and users, the iPhone wouldn't be what it is today."
Jailbreaking unlocks many latent iPhone capabilities
Power users aren't necessarily looking for geeky developer-type add-ons to their iPhones, just genuinely useful productivity apps and features. The single most desired feature is copy and paste, a seemingly obvious interface perk that, until iPhone OS 3.0 arrives this summer, Apple has inexplicably blocked. Users also want features that other smartphones offer but that Apple eschews: video recording, multimedia messaging, file sharing, and interface customization using skins and themes.
And it was to fill this void that Freeman opened Cydia Store with Cyntact, an app he developed to display profile pictures alongside iPhone contact listings. The second app for sale on Cydia Store, the Okori Group's Voicemail Forwarder, extended the iPhone's visual voice mail with a feature business users enjoy on other phones and covet for the iPhone: the ability to forward voice mail to e-mail. As for video recording, Freeman's Cycorder turns the iPhone into a camcorder. As with Apple's App Store, some Cydia Store apps are available for free. NetaTalk, for example, lets you mount the iPhone's disk over Wi-Fi as a file share under Mac OS X.