Jailbroken

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Q: What does it mean to have jailbroken users of my app? (I.e., in the analytics report.)


A: People with jailbroken phones/ipods are running your app.

For the most part, JB phones are developers who want to have full access to their devices. You know how I was complaining that I couldn't use my favorite developer tools to put files on your Yahoo site, and had to use Fetch? iPhone is the same way; Apple limits access to the phone and makes each user run in a little cell (a "jail") that is separate from all others. "Jailbreak" allows one to be the "warden" (unix super-user) and do anything, go anywhere, see all files, etc.


Jailbreaking your device hacks the OS to give you full access. It gives the user more power, but is also more dangerous (it is not hard to inadvertently render your phone both inoperable and irreparable, turning it into a small "brick." This is called "bricking" your phone.)


The other (much smaller, I think) group who does this is pirates. If you look on the web, you can find sites that have gone through the trouble of hacking pay-for apps on the iPhone and removing Apple's encoded copy protection, then they offer the apps for free. IMO, this is a small problem, and any effort spent trying to prevent it is better spent making better apps to garner legitimate sales. This area, however, is hotly contested and subject of many heated debates.


Many developers think that I do not take the "major problem of piracy" seriously enough. It's probably worth your while to poke around Google a bit and gather some contrary opinions, then make a business decision about the whole thing, yourself. Here is my basic take on things:

  • There is nothing you can do to stop piracy, 100%.
    • You can put bigger, fancier, tricker locks on your product but, in the end, the pirate gets the rest of his life to try to break your lock.
  • Unless you can actively show that you're losing substantial amounts of revenue to piracy, it's silly to spend money on anti-piracy code.
    • Apple has thrown a lot of smart engineers at this problem, and put a PDG (pretty darned good) anti-piracy system in place.
    • Apple will continue to refine this system, as long as it's a problem, at no additional cost to us.
    • I am no security expert. Even 50 hours of my time would get you a mediocre anti-piracy system that barely added a small incremental additional security to what's already there.
      • So, for $5000+, you get, maybe 5-10% increase in security but, really, how would you measure that?!
        • How many pirated sales do you need just to break even on that?
      • You COULD hire a security expert, but they're not cheap, and don't typically warrantee their work against loss.
      • The same 50 hrs would get you a heck of a lot of product development and/or new features on existing products.
        • What's the cash value of THAT effort? Seems like it'd be more.


So, while I strongly oppose software piracy, and am tempted to do everything possible against it just on principle, my business-take (and, again, YOU SHOULD FORM YOUR OWN OPINION!) is that it's just a losing battle, and effort is better spent elsewhere.