The iOS App Store has seen unprecedented success since its launch in 2008. Apple undoubtedly boasts the largest and most vibrant app ecosystem in existence, but the App Store’s success has come at a cost.
Apple’s ‘walled garden’ approach gives the company complete control over which apps are published in the App Store. If an app doesn’t follow Apple’s playbook, it doesn’t get in. You may work for months and months on an app only to get it rejected. Publishing in the App Store can be a huge gamble. But if you get lucky, the payoff can be huge.
Aaron Ash kicked off JailbreakCon with a talk on developing for the App Store vs. Cydia, the alternative storefront for jailbreakers. Ash has an unusual perspective because he has seen incredibly success has a developer in Cydia, and he is also a developer in the App Store.
Before developing for the App Store, Ash wrote two hugely popular Cydia packages called multifl0w and Barrel.
Multifl0w was one of the first jailbreak extensions that reinvented iOS multitasking, and Barrel is well known for its funky Home screen animations. Ash has been able to live off sales from his jailbreak tweaks since he got out of college, and recently he decided to try his hand at App Store development.
Flurry, Ash’s new Twitter client for the iPhone, went live in the App Store earlier this week. Flurry is a gorgeous Twitter app that borrows from jailbreak innovations, like the ability to intuitively swipe between windows anywhere in the app, rather than the traditional navigation bar at the top of the screen. Due to Twitter’s new API restrictions, Ash has to keep Twitter’s 100,000 user token limit in mind. That’s part of the reason Flurry is priced at $4.99—Ash wants to keep the user base below Twitter’s limit and also make money.
“While Cydia can only be used on a jailbroken device, the App Store is ubiquitous across every device Apple sells”
Ash is living proof that you can have financial success as a Cydia developer. There is perhaps no better person to judge the pros and cons of developing for the App Store vs. Cydia.
According to Ash, the three main pros to developing for the App Store are the sheer size of the marketplace, promotional potential, and the lack of reliance on a jailbreak. While Cydia can only be used on a jailbroken device, the App Store is ubiquitous across every device Apple sells. Ash admitted that the App Store’s 600,000+ catalog can also be a con due to the fact that it’s easy to get lost in the noise. While Cydia also has a vibrant marketplace, there are far fewer apps and tweaks to compete with.
“You submit something and cross your fingers hoping Apple accepts it”
Ash described Apple’s “black box” review process as another con to the App Store. “You submit something and cross your fingers hoping Apple accepts it,” said Ash. The process of updating an app can also be slow and tedious with Apple, while publishing in Cydia is usually the opposite experience. Pushing out a new tweak or tweak update to the main BigBoss repo in Cydia usually takes under 24 hours to go through the review process. For the App Store, it could take weeks.
Beyond the red tape associated with Apple, the most obvious pro to developing for Cydia is freedom. There are no real restrictions because you can host your own apps and tweaks. You have to jump threw a few hurdles to be in some of Cydia’s main distribution channels, but compared to Apple, the process is a cake walk. Unlike the iOS Dev Program, Cydia has no age restriction for developers. Some of the brightest minds in app and jailbreak development are underage, and Cydia gives them a place to publish their innovations. To legally publish apps in Apple’s App Store, you are required to be at least 18 years old.
“Some of the brightest minds in app and jailbreak development are underage, and Cydia gives them a place to publish their innovations”
It’s hard not to mention Cydia without talking about piracy. Although Cydia paid $8 million to jailbreak developers last year, Ash admitted that he sees piracy as a rampant issue. For Barrel, Ash said he has seen a near 97% piracy rate. There are multiple factors at play when it comes to mobile app piracy. Many jailbreakers don’t even have credit cards to process transactions. It could be because they are underage or live in a closed country. When it comes to piracy, “it’s hard to know what’s a lost sale,” said Ash. Jay Freeman, the creator of Cydia, mentioned how jailbreakers in Iran had contacted him about not being able to purchase content. For Freeman, it’s a legal issue. He has to comply with U.S. trade sanctions like any other enterprise.
So when it comes to developing for the App Store vs. Cydia, there multiple pros and cons to weigh. Do you value freedom over a larger reach? Safety over unknown potential? Regardless of your perspective, there’s definitely success to be had in both marketplaces.