The App Store alternative for jailbreakers offers income for some developers now as well as apps and tools not approved by Apple for millions of users. Jay Freeeman, Operator of Cydia and developer of many apps for jailbreakers talked with us on the Cydia Store, adult content, the iPad, iphone-security, the rival Rock and some more items.
(Deutsche Übersetzung) Jay Freeman, better known to some as Saurik, had influenced the world of jailbreaking maybe more than anyone else. Runnig one of the largest repositories, developing Cydia as the best known source for programs without apples approvement, lots of iPhone-tools, the Cydia Shop – its astonishing that he still has time for other projects.
MN: Hello, Jay, and thanks for your time. Could you give us some basic facts on Cydia for a starter – how many programs are there, how many downloads, are there success stories of the Cydia Store like those at the App Store – can some developers make at least a part of their living selling apps via Cydia, as some do already on the App Store?
JF: The question of “number of apps in Cydia” is a sketchy one: there are over ten thousand packages in Cydia, most of which are art resources (themes and ringtones). Of these, about a thousand are something similar in concept to an “application” (jailbreaks are less concerned with “applications”, as those can usually be deployed in the App Store: we are looking for “extensions” and “daemons”, modifications to the underlying system).
[inspic=7060,left,fullscreen,200,:saurik]Of these, most are free, but some are commercial, and some even smaller subset of those are using the Cydia Store to process payments. There are over 200 packages that are in the Cydia Store, over 100 of which are extensions and applications (as opposed to themes, which make up the remainder). Frankly, the largest and most profitable commercial packages in jailbreak land would never use a unified storefront like this: they setup their own payment processing and sell their application using their own models.
That said, many of the developers in the Cydia Store are doing quite well. I can’t just give out other people’s sales figures, but I can say that the Cydia Store has so far moved $1.25 million in product to over 200,000 worldwide customers (there are millions of users of Cydia, but only ~5% of them make purchases from the storefront). Some developers are making more of that, and some are making less (so if you just divide, remember that that’s an average-ish).
Now, I say a number like that, and people think “omg, that’s a lot of money”, but it should be realized that these are often small companies with offices and employees… you have to make a lot of money to pay for all of that. If you manage to make $50,000 in a couple months on an application, it is quite possible that you could have been better off working at McDonald’s once you take into consideration the burn rate of your organization. Plants vs. Zombies was recently held up as an example of a very successful iPhone application, but if you run the numbers I doubt they were very happy with the result.
Ok, with that aside, from discussions with developers in the App Store, I believe average developers in Cydia are doing better. While the super successes aren’t as amazing, you are competing for a good number of the same eyeballs (10% of users are jailbroken) in a pool of only hundreds of competing products rather than tens of thousands. You can do better tracking of your marketing sources and do A/B testing of hypertext descriptions (that can even include videos).
MN: There are numerous great apps, but especially the absence of the Paypal-fee lately gave me the impression that the cydia store is now sucessful commercially, too. Was i right?
JF: The “PayPal fee” was there because PayPal micropayments weren’t a workable model until recently. If you sell something for $1 on a credit card, PayPal costs $0.30 + 2.9%, or about $0.33. If that sale is made to Sweden in a native currency, there is an additional 1% cross-border fee, in addition to Sweden’s 25% EU VAT. That means that taking $1 from Sweden already is costing $0.59, and we haven’t even included the currency conversion itself. PayPal supported a micropayments model more similar to Amazon’s pricing structure ($0.05 + 5%), but it didn’t work internationally until recently.
MN: A neverending discussion: Apples approval policies. As Apple banned many apps because of nudity etc., i wonder why there are not more apps of that kind on Cydia. Are these developers not interested in selling via Cydia, would they be allowed in your store?
JF: Cydia is not about bypassing a censor: applications that are rejected from Apple come to Cydia constantly, and we usually turn them down just as quickly. Apple’s decisions are usually motivated by things like slander and decency laws. You actually can’t just sell something like nudity via normal credit card processors as they don’t want to be associated with the content and the laws on the other end of that are sufficiently sketchy that the entire account is considered “high risk”.
Of course, using Cydia, you could distribute your illegal application. I have no control over how Cydia is used: its pretty much equivalent to a package-oriented web browser, and users can browse anywhere they want. That doesn’t mean I can accept payment for those developers. What Cydia is really about is all of that stuff that you simply can’t deploy using Apple’s model: things that aren’t “applications” at all, like Google Latitude (runs in the background), or WinterBoard (changes the behavior of an existing application).
MN: 3.1.3 gives some “accidental updaters” a hard time with a locked/un-jailbreaked iPhone. Anything you can tell us on an upcoming new jailbreak/unlock?
JF: I do not work on the jailbreak tools. The way I am involved in the community is in developer relations, community support, and handling business operations of a marketplace like Cydia. I therefore have nothing really to add to this question. I’d watch the iPhone Dev Team blog and George Hotz’s Twitter accounts. ;P
MN: Will there be Cydia for iPad?
JF: If the iPad is jailbroken, you will see Cydia on it, and it will be awesome.
MN: As Cydia is not the only installer available – the newcomer Rock is quite fast, still lacks some stability but got its own store now, too and a decent interface. Are you happy with that? Are there/what are the advantages of cydia?
JF: Cydia repositories are “APT repositories”. APT is a deployment mechanism used on hundreds of millions of Linux machines worldwide, and has over 17 years of development behind it. There are all kinds of interesting corner cases that come up while deploying packages. Rock Your Phone was brash enough to think that doesn’t matter, and has tried to reimplement APT. In the process, there have been numerous casualties, from an incorrect implementation of versioned dependencies (causing some issues with a major SBSettings upgrade) to more minor day-to-day compatibility problems.
The concept of Rock’s speed should also be addressed: it is not actually faster at anything but loading, and that’s only because of some of the design decisions it uses in how it reloads data. Once the application is loaded, Cydia is really awesome: it can sort things faster than almost any other application, and the once place I know it is “slower” (searching) is because it is doing search-as-you-type on entire descriptions rather than just titles.
Ok, but I know people will want some specifics. ;P Half of the story is that the major repositories aren’t using an APT feature called DiffIndices, which means that updates involve downloading over a megabyte of data as opposed to a couple kilobytes. I am working on getting the major packagers to switch to this model, and am going to be doing an epic demonstration for them of the speed difference in the coming week. The other difference is that Rock runs in the background occasionally and updates itself, which is a major problem for people who have limited data plans (and caused serious issues recently: even if you never ran Rock it would slowly eat storage until it consumed an entire 32GB device).
Regardless, to put this in perspective, Rock is currently only 8% of the market by usage (based on downloads of neutral, platform/system packages), but generates closer to 50% of the support requests for more complex packages (which causes some developers to mis-estimate their marketshare at 50%). Needless to say, I tend to not have the resources to attempt to help users using Rock (although my support infrastructure has been swamped in general recently; I’m probably going to be hiring actual full-time support personnel soon).
MN: What are your personal favorite Apps available via Cydia?
JF: YourTube, WinterBoard (although I could live without it easily), Backgrounder, BTstack Keyboard (although this hasn’t been integrated into my mainstream usage yet), Cyntact, Inspell, MobileTerminal, QuickScroll (although I’m using an old version), Veency, Five Icon Dock, OverBoard (somewhat: I’m not yet convinced), and an unreleased extension that lets you manage an infinite number of tabs in MobileSafari (I have over 50 tabs open). Cycorder is no longer on the list as I’ve upgraded to the iPhone 3G[S], and now use Camera.
These are really the only things I use from jailbreak-land, but they are more than enough. Frankly, the list is kind of boring, as most of the things listed were written by me: this is actually somewhat typical. Many of the other “core developers” I know in the scene are mostly dominated by their own software, as they can directly target their specific niche (and thereby often end up re-developing something someone else already has with a minor difference).
MN: One of my more speculative predictions for 2010: we’ll witness the first malware injection on iPhones via an app not recognized as malware, being distributed via a well known app repository. Do you think thats possible or even expectable? Why/why not?
JF: I believe this has already happened: it was a non-issue, and was dealt with internally. It is assuredly “expected”, and no system is immune to this. In the first couple months of the App Store there was a really popular application (that I even used)… Aurora Feint, I think it was called… that “stole” your address book (although personally I don’t really think it was with mal-intent). Apple had to pull it from the store. You should always think through who you are getting software from, and know that anything you install on your system is subject to security issues.
MN: Back to the dev team, geohot and the other jailbreaker groups: i often notice people thank them, praise them, offer donations, whatever – most of the time its refused or ignored. Are there possibilities to support you/jailbreakers/the jaibreaking community, where is help needed?
JF: There is a ton of help needed in programming-land, but none of it is fun and no one ever actually wants to help in those ways :(. An example is the recent upgrade I released of APT7 that drastically sped up Cydia’s loading time: there was some memory management work that needed to be done in APT, as well as some bug fixes from the port, that had to be addressed to get the performance “up to snuff”. Doing optimizations on APT is not as sexy to developers as trying to rewrite or fork Cydia. If the Rock Your Phone developers had allocated their resources to helping with the platform as opposed to trying to fork it we’d be in a really awesome place right now.
As a specific example, I’d love someone with knowledge of Aptitude (a popular APT client) to help me understand how it clears the APT marks without reloading the entire cache file. Being able to do that in Cydia would make cancel operations instantaneous (which right now take like four seconds). This is a purely decomposable task: there’s no dependency on iPhone-specific knowledge to do this; it doesn’t require recompiling Cydia, and it doesn’t even require an iPhone toolchain setup. In fact, it doesn’t even require knowing what an iPhone is, excepting the obvious issue that you wouldn’t bother doing it otherwise ;P.
MN: Jay, thanks a lot for your answers, for cydia and for all your other projects.
* Aurora Feint was indeed coded without bad intentions and is still very popular.