iPhone’s pirate problem

Pirate Dog Arr matey, there be a danger on the wireless waves.

A tool was recently released for the iPhone that breaks the copy protection on the AppStore apps, enabling redistribution of any application.  And it is designed to do this with a single button push.  The cracking tool is only available to jailbroken phones, as would any redistributed applications, but it poses a potentially troubling scenario.

The iPhone jailbreaking community has played a large part in the development of the wireless world.  Back when the iPhone was released, Apple’s stance was a staunch “no native apps.”  They felt it was enough to provide tools for iPhone customized web development.

It was a ragtag grouping of a few very clever individuals who found ways to build, install, and run applications on the iPhone without Apple’s permission.

They then make the distribution of these applications easy to accomplish for everyone with the release of an application called “Installer,” which ran on the phone as a graphical way to install new apps right from the phone.  Yes, this should sound familiar – the Apple AppStore is a nearly identical copy of the features and layout of the initial Installer app.  This functionality existed on the iPhone months before Apple even released plans for a SDK.  It is unlikely that without the activity of the jailbreak community, that Apple would have even changed their policy to allow native applications.

The jailbreak community continues to do interesting things with the iPhone today.  Live video broadcast from mobile phones is one trend the lab considers a trend to watch.  While standard iPhones can’t do any sort of video at all, two live video broadcast sites, Qik and Flixwagon, have released applications through the jailbroken community enabling this very functionality on the iPhone.

Most of what the jailbreak community does is legal, though it breaks Apple’s Terms of Service and will void an iPhone’s warranty.  Cracking applications and then pirating them is very illegal.  For a development community that relies so heavily on the work of small businesses and indie developers, this is an unfortunate update.

If pirating occurs in a widespread manner on the iPhone, it’s quite possible that app developers will move to ad supported models, such as provided by AdMob, to fund their apps.  Much like the broader PC community has had to adapt to software pirates with adaptive business models, it looks like the iPhone application community is going to have to adapt as well.