Since its inception, Apple Computer Inc.’s success has hinged on its ability to walk the fine line of keeping its technologies proprietary without alienating the people who make the company successful: those who develop software for Apple’s devices, and the end users who ultimately purchase and use the Apple products. There are countless well-documented cases of the company’s tight-fisted approach rousing the ire of consumers and developers alike. How well the industry giant is walking that fine line is again being called into question, as Apple’s strategies have inadvertently spawned a rapidly growing cottage industry of developers and consumers who are finding it necessary to look beyond the app store to meet their iPhone application needs and fulfill their desires for functionality that Apple has deliberately restricted.
Apple’s tight regulation of the apps that they will allow in their app store has been sending ripples of dissent through the ranks of iPhone fans worldwide ever since the company launched their app store in July of 2008 and they began making policy decisions with regard to apps created by independent developers. We have seen countless apps denied inclusion to the app store for reasons that have been mysterious, vague, overly censoring, anti-competitive, and unevenly applied.
Apple lost further favor with free-thinking technology enthusiasts with their vigorous legal battle over “jailbreaking” the iPhone, which they lost. The Electronic Frontier Foundation had been petitioning federal regulators for years to add an exemption to the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) to make it legal for consumers to customize the iPhone’s operating system to allow it to run any app the consumer wants – whether Apple has approved the app or not. In typical fashion, Apple strongly opposed this proposition and fought it at great expense, arguing that modification of the iPhone’s operating system ultimately creates a derivative work that infringes on their copyright. Federal regulators were unambiguous in their response. They declared in no uncertain terms that it is absolutely legal for consumers to “jailbreak” an iPhone once it has been purchased from Apple.
The cumulative result of the discontent with Apple’s app store policies combined with the now perfectly legal jailbreaking possibilities is that there is a growing movement amongst many of the more forward-thinking developers to shun the app store altogether and find other means of distributing their iPhone applications to end users. After all, it is no longer necessary to have your app in the app store to have a legitimate commercial iPhone application to offer consumers. One needs only to spend a few minutes on a jailbroken iPhone to see more than enough evidence of this trend. Cydia is one of the leaders of jailbreaking software, and their store is bursting with apps, hacks, modifications, and tweaks that would never be allowed in the app store. You can install themes that customize the entire look of the iPhone operating system, find apps that spoof caller ID, add custom video ringtones (so each time a particular person calls you your phone shows a video that you selected), and many others.
Other evidence of this mounting trend can be seen in the recent launch of Microgaming’s new iPhone casino, which allows players (currently non-U.S. only) to play adapted versions of classic casino games for real money. This full-featured, state-of-the-art mobile casino was developed specifically for the iPhone by the largest software company in the online casino world (in partnership with mobile specialists Spin3), and with these deep pockets they chose to develop a browser-based application that sidesteps Apple’s app store completely – creating an iPhone casino that functions without the need for any software to be downloaded or installed.
Whether or not Apple with alter its course to meet the needs of this expanding segment of its iPhone customer base remains to be seen. Regardless, one thing is for sure: the liberation of the iPhone has begun. Cydia and iPhone casinos are just the very beginning. A new generation of iPhone apps is being created right now that will push the boundaries of this revolutionary device toward its maximum, unbridled potential.