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So, there is a lot of confusion over these issues, and I always find that very distress distressing, so let me make this clear: Apple's application approval process on the iPhone, and soon on Mac OS X with the Mac App Store, is a small part of the story, and frankly I will say it is the least interesting part.

I recently gave a talk at TEDxAmericanRiviera that touched on this subject: I think it is an enjoyable and understandable explanation of what it means that the ecosystem of software on the iPhone is limited to "applications", and how that is not what consumers want.


As some people may not wish to watch a video, I will go ahead and attempt to provide a little context here, in text. The idea is that the App Store is designed to install "applications": units of software that typically involve an icon on some kind of launcher that opens a window into some new functionality the device previously did not have.

However, is that really all that users want to be able to do with their devices? If we just look at the stories posted to Hacker News about Android software we already see that would be a flawed premise: there is a long train of "cool" surrounding products like Swype and 8pen. These programs replace the system input manager, aka the keyboard, for all applications.

These programs are not just apps: they are extensions to other applications on the device. We also see this in the form of custom launchers, dialers, and widgets: Android has numerous ways that developers can extend the core functionality of the handset in ways that escape the trap that is the icon.

Now, before you start thinking "woah, Android is awesome", you still can't add functionality to the address book, the notification area, or the task switcher... or any of the other insanely large number of things that the device is capable of doing. Every time you add a little bit more ability there is still going to be a ton of things that are not exposed.

You may now ask: what else is there? Go look at your average jailbroken iPhone: the stuff people are developing and installing is /amazing/. There are almost no limits to what you can change on the device; it isn't open source, but it is damned close. No system feature or application is immune to the influence of small and large changes. (For some cool examples and screenshots, watch the aforementioned talk.) And, if you really insist that open isn't open until it is open source you can gut the bootloader and install Android on the thing thanks to the iDroid project.

This is why I absolutely hate it when I read people focusing on rejected applications or "opening up" the app store. In a future where Apple did /exactly what you are asking them to do/ almost nothing will have changed: people will still need to jailbreak their phones and developers will still be writing and distributing all of this cool software using Cydia.

Seriously: Apple doesn't actually deny much from their App Store. They are occasionally a little anti-competitive, and that sucks, but these really boil down to a handful of high-profile cases: the effect on the market is minimal. Most of what they deny either a) doesn't work or b) is illegal or morally objectionable to your average American.

I say "American", as that's key: by having Apple, a US company, be the gatekeeper of content, there is a plethora of software involving aspects of copyright or slander law that is simply illegal for them to distribute. Meanwhile, things like pornography are a nigh-unto-no-go for their business model.

But please understand: that's the /only/ important issue with Apple being the shepherd, that is not an issue that your average iPhone jailbreaker or Android rooter (the classes of user that I think are central to this discussion as they are the poster child of a user affected by the closed policies of these companies enough to take matters into their own hand) gives a care in the world to.

Really, if you browse through Cydia, you will find only a small handful of applications. The number of applications that are in Cydia as "refugees" from the App Store was always low, and it is dwindling very rapidly as Apple slowly opens up their Store more (thanks to some nice efforts by companies like Adobe). Everything people jailbreak for is fundamentally not deployable by the App Store applications they /are not apps/.

So please... PLEASE... I /implore/ you: drop the battle to get Apple to open up their App Store(s). Instead, work on getting Apple to open up their /device/ (and, in the case of desktop Mac OS X, to maintain the reasonable open-ness of their MacBook line of computers). Until users are able to install whatever software they wish on the hardware that they own we will not truly have won back any of our freedom.

Very well put. I have realized that most people automatically think that just because something is in Cydia, it /definitely/ means that it was rejected from the App Store; like that's the only possible explanation. But it's not. I think that you have a great point that Apple should change the App Store and allow extensions, and tweaks, and everything else. Or, even better, make a /different/ app, like an Extensions app, where you could download Extensions. If it wasn't for extensions, Apple would probably not have advanced very far since 2007. Many of their ideas come from the jailbreak community; multitasking, homescreen wallpaper, 3rd party software itself! I'm sure they realize this, they just think that they have made a system and people should not be changing it. I think it would be a /major/ benefit to their company to allow extensions. Monetarily, for one, and people are just generally happier.

Unfortunately, there are several reasons why Apple would think to prohibit its users from installing system-level "hacks" (as they would call them) or plugin extensions. The most "important" or foremost of which being that which will allow piracy. I am not endorsing Apple's closed system model, but simply stating one of its reasons. Deny it or not, such plugins can and will exist and as long as such are active, this will be a problem. I know, piracy is a completely different subject, but it's a reasonable issue affecting Apple's decision IMHO. I do have to say that the PRIMARY reason why I jailbroke was in order to add nonexistent functionality through add-ons. Heck, it's the same reason why I "hacked" my PSP so many years ago. I like having freedom to change certain settings, the kind of which that won't affect anybody else but me, and I am definitely taking the risk. As long as Apple uses an App Store model, it's as you say saurik. There will still be restrictions because Apple will be the middleman. As long as somebody is in control of any one thing, they will take the steps necessary to enforce their beliefs.

The issue with piracy is because Apple lets their DRM be cracked by just running gdb on the encrypted processes (while running) -- if they put any effort into it (kernel level blocks, etc) they could make security possible even with these hacks.

Right, and being on the receiving end of money transfer, Apple would not allow such software to exist as it would not only reduce sales for developers, but also percentage revenue for itself as well. Apple will always have some sort of fear in regards to safety, but money-watch will be at the top of it's most important worry list. Customer safety is a given as well, however there would be nothing wrong with Apple allowing some sort of choice where customers would have the option of deciding whether or not they want to allow extension software. This leads back to the aforementioned statement; Apple's primary concern is its revenue, just like with any business.

This premise is flawed because the App Store doesn't make much money: that service is provided in order to make the hardware they sell more profitable. Meanwhile, the people who pirate are quite unlikely to actually buy it. Trust me: if Apple cared even $10,000 a year about piracy (one engineer for a month) it would be very easy for them to keep on top of the people who are doing it.

Hi from France. Apple has legal obligations as they are an editor. But in my point of view, it is not the role of a compagny to decide what is "legaly moral". This is the first problem. Second one is that (please consider i'm european) a compagny can't decide by itself who have the Right be a concurrent. In Europe, it took long years, but finally Microsoft has been condamned for obstruction to concurrence because of IE domination! Now, each new computer whith Windows must give the choice at the first boot between selected browsers. I think this Will happen one day to Apple, because restrictions about Adobe flash are just illegals. Just like the impossibility to use the app installers of our choice.

@spike021: The fight against piracy is not an argument. Look how it is easy today to find and install a cracked app, and how it is easy to crack and spread worldwide an official app. This is the demonstration that Apple closed model is absolutly not the answer to piracy.

I've had a Mac since the original 64KB model. I remember the FIRST PARAGRAPH of the programmer's manual listing it as a single-user, single-task OS.

Third-party devs led the way, first with installable drivers that munged keyboard, disk, ... and an amazing task-switcher. But those became the bad old days of Macs: OS9 was falling apart due to overload. At huge expense -- Apple almost died from not tackling the issue well -- OSX started with a clean slate. Apple finally took control of the feature set that users wanted: pre-emptive multitasking, multi users, control of various daemons, etc.

Over time, that, too, got overlaid with all sorts of cruft. My upgrade this spring to a new MBP caused me a day's worth of debugging after I migrated files: some long-forgotten and actually no-longer-used third-party system extension conflicted with another module on the new hardware. Over a day's worth of debugging and cleanup, including an hour's worth of tech support (fortunately bundled with the hardware). Cost (very roughly) a thousand dollars.

So I think it's a bit disingenuous to advocate all these "neat" iOS hacks without acknowledging the possibly of really badly busting iOS, even for expert users, and "it just works" -- already a bit tenuous -- with it. Especially stuff running in non-user space can cause issues far-removed from the source of trouble. And unexpected software can either cause bugs or expose OS bugs that were otherwise benign or devs had worked around. A program that was tested only with Apple keyboard features can suddenly fail to work, tarnishing the app developer AND the platform. And like my incident, resolution can be very difficult and expensive for all concerned.

As my history indicates, I've been a big fan of hacks. But I already have seen enough issues with "good" apps such as the NYT crashing, or calendar entries failing to synch, that if I were still a developer, I would NOT want the added burden/expense of the sort of unstable OS that hacks have caused Apple in the past. Especially given the rather modest rewards for so many developers.

I will not say I don't feel for Apple. However, I believe this is a relatively minor and, at this point, quite well understood cost that Apple must support. Users, and I mean end users, want features like multitasking on OS9, and a lot of progress was being made in the world because it existed. Allowing companies like Apple to hold back potential markets because it is inconvenient to them is the kind of thing that should be frowned upon (and luckily it is: that's the kind of argument that must be made to get the explicit DMCA exemption that we managed to win).

"I say "American", as that's key"

Actually, America is arguably middle-of-the road, as far as this goes. Apple sells iOS devices into countries that are dramatically more censorious.

While Apple probably don't want an Apple Store in Tennessee shut down by some local sheriff on a distribution-of-porn-to-a-minor charge because of an App Store app, they also need to consider Malaysia, Singapore, India, UAE, etc. Even Australia, for that matter.

Also: App Store slander would probably be a bigger deal with regard to the UK.

Thanks for the feedback, that is a very good point! Next time I end up going down this path I'll keep this issue in mind. What I was getting at there, however, is really "any axis that causes your laws or ideals to different from that of the filter agent".

What is the name of the rich text extension/mod @saurik uses in his talk?

It's not out yet, but it's going to be part of Action Menu by Ryan Petrich (http://rpetri.ch).

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