Several upstarts are challenging Apple's wildly successful App Store as the preferred online storefront for iPhone software. But they may be playing with fire, experts warn.
Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) tightly controls what software can be distributed, whether free or paid, on the App Store. The alternatives, like the Cydia Store, offer applications that, for a variety of reasons, Apple has refused. Like the App Store, Cydia is an iPhone application that its creator said is used by over a million iPhone users every week.
But the Cydia Store requires the iPhone to be modified -- or "jailbroken" -- to run unauthorized programs, though Apple has historically frowned on the process, with some jailbroken iPhones suffering deactivation during later software updates from Apple.
Jay Freeman, who started Cydia, said it's worth it. "You want to jailbreak for the flexibility and the additional applications you can get," he told InternetNews.com.
While Apple's App Store continues ballooning in popularity -- the company has said there are now over 22,000 iPhone applications available through its store, which has processed over 500 million downloads so far -- Cydia's not the only competitor looking to take it on. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, another alternative called "Rock Your Phone" is for iPhone users who have not yet modified their iPhone to make it easier to download and buy unauthorized applications.
To Freeman, iPhone users need an alternative to the Apple App Store that allow them to sidestep the company's strict policies covering the kinds of apps it will allow. But Apple has maintained that it works to ensure apps meet a high level of quality, singling out malware, pornography and "bandwidth hogs" in particular.
But it's also raised the ire of some developers for banning applications that seemed to compete with its own offerings -- or for reasons developers say they've never been fully explained.
Apple did not return a call for comment by press time.
Freeman himself said he's spent hundreds of dollars on applications at the App Store, but he grew frustrated with Apple's refusal to accept certain apps -- including his own Cycorder video-recording program. So he launched the Cydia Store, which offers Cycorder and a raft of other programs from other developers not available from the App Store.
These include streaming video applications, another that will let you run the iPhone from a notebook computer, and a call-blocking program.
Industry analyst Jack Gold agreed that Apple's control of the App Store is too stringent and that's why Cydia and others will flourish -- if briefly.
"Apple can shut [Cydia] down in a matter of days," said Gold, who heads J. Gold & Associates. "They can sue him for breaking copyrights or send updated iPhone software that will shut him off."
But Gold added that Apple shouldn't have a monopoly on the distribution of iPhone software.
"Absolutely not. Can you imagine if Microsoft said you could only get Windows Mobile applications from Microsoft, or Nokia or [Research in Motion] did something similar?" he said. "There'd be a huge outcry, but somehow Apple gets away with it."