With the release of jailbreakme.com, an easy to perform universal jailbreak, we have had a lot of jailbreak and Cydia app news over the past week. With jailbreak articles often come emails from readers and developers complaining we should not promote jailbreaking or the jailbreak community. Many people see the word jailbreak as a synonym for App Store piracy. Here at AppAdvice we are strongly against pirated apps. Period. We never think of jailbreaking as a means to pirate apps, as jailbreaking allows for apps and tweaks that are unavailable in the App Store.
We do, however, see how app piracy may tempt some. What if I told you that you could have any app you wanted without having to pay for it? Sound cool? Magical? Wrong? Well, it is all of these things, so just how popular is downloading apps illegally? Who stands behind the App Store pirates and how do they justify the practice? Recently, we were able to speak with the man behind the largest community of pirated, or cracked, apps on the internet. It's called AppTrackr, and yes, it even has an app of its own on the jailbreak App Store.
Founded by Dissident (a man in his twenties, whose job doesn't even involve computers), and run as a hobby, Apptrackr is today incontestably the biggest source of cracked apps on the net. He and the Hackulous community have developed a way for users with jailbroken iDevices to download copies of many popular apps in the App Store completely free of charge. Based on his answers we now have a sense of just how large this phenomena of App Store pirates is, and what drives him to continue to create and improve his network.
Indeed, despite what you may think, he says the goal is noble. Officially, the intention is to allow people to try apps before they buy them and save money. BS? That's also what I told Dissident, Apptrackr's creator. Still, he firmly believes it isn't so:
I know for a fact that a good share of our users trial applications, and that's the only reason I continue to work for the community. A very, very considerable portion of our users do so.
Regarding these users, Dissident informed us that they're not small in number. He sees more than 10 million unique visitors on AppTrackr every month, with millions of hits a day. When you consider there are about a 100 million iOS devices in the wild, and something like 10% of them are jailbroken (according to Cydia's creator, Saurik), this number is shockingly high.
It doesn't stop there. The app which allows you to download these cracked apps free of charge directly on your iDevice, boasts a solid user base as well. Currently, it's installed on more than four million devices and growing. That's about 4% of all iOS users, 40% of jailbroken devices, and yes, that's similar to the number of official downloads of Doodle Jump at the last count.
Apple is well aware of the phenomenon and while Dissident won’t comment on his relationship with Apple, we asked him about the recently introduced "try before you buy" section in the App Store. Yet, it won't cut it for the Hackulous community, which has much further reaching demands, he says:
The user should be able to have a risk-free trial of the application. The user should not have to purchase the application for any amount of money. The user should be given ample time for testing. This trial system should be available for all applications. Developers can be given some flexibility on a per-app basis, but abuse cannot be tolerated and the policy cannot be too lenient.
He continues that he is even ready to close the site if Apple agrees:
Apple can work around the edges to either please us or displease us, and that's really all it comes down to. Indeed, our services will no longer be required if Apple implements such a system.
Of course, you could say there is no such thing as a "right to app trial", yet, I can see why some believe it's a legitimate demand.
There is a widespread claim that people pirate apps just to try them out. That if they like them, they'll buy the official version. And, those who don't buy it, wouldn't have bought it in the first place anyway. In my opinion, this claim is a bit hard to swallow. I'm afraid the temptation is much too large. Since the practice is virtually risk-free, the reward of staying honest is small. However, the people behind these services really do seem to believe in doing good and their intentions are pure. Maybe I'm just a cynic. Or maybe, they're out-of-touch idealists, who knows?
Based on the data Dissident shared, the App Store piracy phenomenon is a lot larger than we previously believed. According to him almost every other jailbreaker pirates apps. Powered by a jailbreak that grows ever easier, it does not appear to be anywhere close to coming to an end.
These numbers might give a very real reason to be against jailbreaking. A reason I often discounted in the past. The sheer volume of cracked app downloads show why Apple and developers may be very interested in shutting down jailbreaking altogether, which is sad given it's many virtues. Why is more not being done to stop these pirates? We stand by what we stated at the outset; We do see many legitimate purposes for jailbreaking, now we just hope that pirated apps do not stand in the way of jailbreak longevity.
[Thanks to Dissident, AppTrackr's creator for his time and answers]