Business Perspective on the Iphone Jailbreaking App Cydia

If you outlaw jailbreaking phones, outlaws won’t jailbreak their phones.

Two days ago I saw Saurik the creator of Cydia give a keynote at a conference which provided an interesting perspective into the world of jailbreaking the iPhone. He talked quite a bit about Cydia and its role in the marketplace. Cydia is an interesting piece of software that benefits pretty much everyone involved.

For those not in the know Cydia is the App Store on the iPhone but for software that Apple does not allow on the App Store itself. It is installed on devices by jailbreaking them and gaining complete control of the Iphone.

Cydia got its name because a cydia is a species of moth that lives and grows in apples.

Cydia obviously benefits the end user giving them unbelievable value added features that add functionality that Apple won’t allow on the App Store. I personally will always want my phone jailbroken because of f.lux eliminating the blue spectrum at night on my phone. The value added is tremendous. Blind people can use iPhones to their full potential with Cydia by unlocking features to provide a great blind user experience.

It’s cool to look at Cydia and how it affects Apple’s business model. It benefits Apple greatly in a lot of ways. The obvious benefit of Cydia is that it’s a testing ground for apple’s new features. Pretty much every feature Apple has implemented In the iOS updates has already been tested years before with Cydia.

The largest value Cydia provides to Apple is the prevention of zero day exploits. Zero day exploits are defined as exploits that hackers find and then don’t tell anyone about the glitch in order to monetize off the exploit. The teams that work on jailbreaking spend 1000s of hours finding zero day exploits and then release the exploit in the form of jailbreaks which Apple can then reverse engineer and fix the exploit. It’s very interesting to think that Cydia is a security competitive advantage for Apple compared to Android who only has white hat hackers to protect from zero day exploits.

There are some downsides to Cydia. The big one is the disruption of the business model for the App Store and the iPhone itself. It’s small because Apple is primarily a hardware company but Cydia allows free tethering while Apple changes 20 dollars a month to add the feature. There is also a little bit of piracy because with Cydia you can spoof the App Store purchasing system. This is small because the majority of people that jailbreak don’t use Cydia to pirate but just to add features. I believe these downsides are small and can be outweighed solely by the increased value Cydia adds to the early adopter crowd who if not for Cydia would be on Android.

With the clear advantages in place, I wonder if people couldn’t find exploits with future updates would it be beneficial for apple to give jailbreak teams an exploit. After 6 months or so apple would give the evasion jailbreak team a jailbreak to release. No one would know it came from apple directly but doing so, will benefit a large amount of users and potentially boost sales. It would be interesting to look into this more. I want to see a graph with iphone sales and how they correlate to jailbreak announcements. My hypothesis is it might be small as the percentage of people that jailbreak is small.

Cydia opens the iPhone and makes it behave like a fully featured computer. A lot of companies don’t want people to take control of their devices as it would drastically affect their business model (think game consoles). In fact it’s currently illegal for consumers to take control of devices if the manufacturer prevents that. Cydia actually has to go to court every couple years and ask for an exception.

Saurik makes a very interesting point in that by locking the phone down and only providing an apple experience, it’s not a complete computer experience. The idea is that if a kid gets an iphone that is locked down he will still be able to do a lot, but if he was inclined to explore the
computer science software development world he would not be able to the fullest extent. If the kid had a jailbroken phone or an android phone he could load up a fully featured ide and learn about making games and apps.

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