The State of App Piracy and What Can Be Done to Fix It

By , Apr 8, 2011

[iDB does not condone app piracy.]

Have you ever been inside a peddler’s mall? It’s basically a huge consignment shop where different vendors come and sell their knick knacks under one roof.

People who have items to sell in a peddler’s mall pay the mall’s owner a percentage of their sales for the rights to sell in the store. People will come to the peddler’s mall to see what kind of deals they can find and to barter with the sellers.

In a way, the peddler’s mall is a lot like the App Store. And folks, people are shoplifting.

Before I go any farther, I want to clearly define piracy. The term “piracy” obviously tems from the word pirate. Thanks to pop culture, the word “pirate” automatically triggers images of Jack Sparrow, missing teeth, parrots, gold, giant ships, swords, etc. But pirates have actually been around a lot longer than you would think.

From as early as 13th century B.C, the “Sea Peoples” raided the eastern Mediterranean coast. In fact, every since nautical exploration began, you can bet your best gold piece that there has been pirates.

Pirates have always been plunderers and thieves that run from the law, and only until recently has the term “pirate” taken on a whole other nature.

There’s been a rapidly growing trend in mobile app piracy. Thanks to the ease of access that is currently present for piracy on iOS, the iPhone is by far the largest and most blatantly obvious mobile piracy platform in existence.

Software piracy can be boiled down to this simple definition: acquiring paid software and using it for free without the developer’s consent.

There are two types of iOS app piracy:

App Store Piracy

If you take ten random jailbroken iPhones from ten random people, chances are that at least seven of the devices will have an app called Installous. Once you jailbreak your device, you can install a new portal to the App Store called Installous. The Installous application is a creation of the Hackulo.us team, and has been around since 2008.

Installous provides you with cracked copies of the apps in the App Store. Hackers upload cracked apps to be shared and indexed within the Installous app. Unlike the App Store, no account or payment method is required to have free access to the multitude of cracked apps on Installous.

The App Store is home to the world’s largest and most diverse collection of mobile applications. Because it is so easy to download free apps through Installous on a jailbroken device, App Store piracy runs rampant among the jailbreak community.

Cydia Piracy

Cydia indexes all of its jailbreak tweaks/apps/themes, etc. through repositories. A repository, or “repo,” is essentially a storage house for content that’s delivered by Cydia.

The software piracy community cracks and distributes Cydia content through repos. Cydia apps/tweaks that developers submit to credible repos like BigBoss get cracked and re-hosted to be downloaded for free by repos like SiNfuL iPhone Repo and xSellize.

The creator of Cydia, saurik, has clearly stated on multiple occasions that he does not condone app piracy. But because Cydia is an open market for anyone to host their content, there’s nothing he can really do about the repos distributing cracked apps.

Now, back to the peddler’s mall.

A peddler’s mall is similar to the App (and Cydia) Store in a lot of ways. Real people with real lives are selling goods to real people with real lives. It’s easy to forget that an actual person spent real work hours and physical resources on creating our favorite apps. The developers behind the apps you use have to feed their families and pay for living expenses just like you do. The only difference is that, for a lot of them, software development is their only source of income.

I don’t want to get into too much of an emotionally driven argument, but it’s simple if you think about it in real world terms. In a peddler’s mall, it’s pretty easy to shoplift. The facility is usually not that hi tech, and there’s no door alarm to warn the employees when un-purchased goods walk out the front door. There’s usually not even security cameras to catch you pocketing something.

Even if you planned on only testing something out and then bringing it back, you hopefully wouldn’t shoplift from a peddler’s mall. Society and the law have ingrained into our minds that physical stealing is wrong, and, for the most part, we wouldn’t consider shoplifting from a real world store.

Why do we treat a virtual store differently? Just because something is possible doesn’t make it permissible.

iTry

My argument is that the App and Cydia Store should be treated no differently than a physical store. When you pirate an app, you are directly slapping the app’s developer in the face for his/her hard work. That sounds tough, but it’s true.

There are three types of people that pirate apps:

  1. The person who just refuses to pay real money for the apps they download, for whatever reason. (I realize that teenagers are a huge demographic of app pirates. But their age does not excuse them.)
  2. The person who wants to try an app before they make a purchase. (This usually applies to apps that cost +$2.99.)
  3. The person who pretend they want to try an app first, but has no plans to actually pay for anything.

There are two reasons why app piracy exists:

  1. There are cheap people.
  2. There is no way to universally demo software from the App Store or Cydia.

There’s not much that can be done about cheap people, but Apple and saurik have the ability to help solve number 2.

Developers have been experimenting with “free” and “lite” versions of apps to solve the problem of no universal demo ability in the App Store. Due to Apple’s current restrictions, there is no default method for offering demos/trails of apps.

Instead, developers are creating stand-alone companions to their full version apps. Especially in the gaming genre, you can find simpler versions of popular games for free and then buy the full version at the paid price.

If Apple could find a way to implement a demo infrastructure into the App Store, it would cut out the segment of people that use methods like Installous to “test” out apps. Even if you do set out with good intentions, it’s easy to forget that your new favorite app was stolen. You can end up never actually buying the app.

There’s no reason why anyone should have to pay a good amount of money for something they’re not 100% sure they’ll like. I totally understand the hesitancy about buying an app that’s $5 without even trying it. Especially when you get to the price range of +$10, consumers really begin to question if they’re making the right decision. And that’s Apple’s fault.

On the Cydia side of things, it gets more tricky. Because of the complexity in content and distribution, it would be a technical feat of magic to have universal demo capability on the Cydia storefront.

Developers could start offering “lite” versions of their apps and tweaks for people to try, but then there’s the issue of too much clutter and confusion. There would also be a problem with apps/tweaks that run at the root level (and many do).

My request is for Apple to create a demo feature in the App Store. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy; just an option under the “Buy” button to “Try.” This type of feature would solve the clutter issue of “lite” and “free” versions of the same app, and also provide no excuse for those who pirate apps for trial’s sake.

The bottom line is: don’t steal apps. You may think you’re just one fish in a big pond, but it all adds up.

And if you’re going to stick to the “try it before you buy it” mentality, make sure to follow through and actually buy apps you want to keep.

If you’re going to spend $200 on an iPhone, the least you can do is spend $1.99 for a great piece of software. That’s the price of a coffee.

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  • clone137

    You left off a 4th type of person. One who lives in a country where games aren’t available in the AppStore due to the requirement that games need to be rated first. Put it down to lazy government or whatever that this is not being done, but either way the games just aren’t available to purchase. I would have paid for angry birds over and over again to show my appreciation but that’s not possible for me.

  • clone137

    You left off a 4th type of person. One who lives in a country where games aren’t available in the AppStore due to the requirement that games need to be rated first. Put it down to lazy government or whatever that this is not being done, but either way the games just aren’t available to purchase.

  • Nick Chambers

    Stealing software is not the same as stealing physical items. I’m not saying that makes it right, but they are not the same thing.

  • drew

    i have no money to pay for the software i get through installous, and im in high school so i dont have a reasonable way of getting money to pay for apps so what should i do

    • XepptizZ

      It is funny how you’re suggesting apps are some kind of basic needs like shelter and food. If you don’t have the money than to bad. It’s a criminals excuse 9 out of 10 robberys.

      Though i do find some other arguements fór piracy mentioned earlier to be compellng.

      • http://twitter.com/thehayhorse Hayden Jenkins

        The following regards to cydia: what if the person can’t get a cydia account and so how are they sposed to pay for apps/tweaks?

    • HubertFarnsworth

      Get a job, you hippie!

  • http://www.ititothemes.wordpress.com iTito

    Piracy is not kool…FINAL!

    • Jason Masters

      Piracy is awesome FINAL!!!!

  • JNA

    I completely agree with this article. I am so glad that someone is taking the time to communicate this horrific evil that is so prevalent in today’s society!

  • http://www.appuware.com Appuware

    I’m amazed at how the mobile app industry is ignoring the anti-piracy best practices of the shrink-wrapped software world. All of the protection is at the phone layer making it easy for the app to travel whereever!

    Our new company Appuware has developed a neat solution to app piracy and app marketing in general. Our turnkey service provides app developers a set of tools that allow them to register users and issue licenses; creating a slew of different marketing opportunities to customers. Hope you’ll come by and check us out – We just launched with a 30 day free trial – interested to get your feedback on the product !

  • Arrr

    Does anyone have a cracked version of Appuware available? Thanks.

  • http://123446 فيصل

    Fffff

  • HubertFarnsworth

    I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.

  • Ed

    i never intend to buy software in my life, so that’s it for me I suppose. And 2 USD is coffe in america maybe, don’t forget we might come from less developed countries, 2 USD is a large pizza and a juice in my country