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Summary:

Jailbreaking an iPhone — that is, modifying it to run apps unauthorized by Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) — may be lawful in the eyes of U.S. authorit…

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Jailbreaking an iPhone — that is, modifying it to run apps unauthorized by Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) — may be lawful in the eyes of U.S. authorities, but a curious incident involving Toyota, Apple, and the blogosphere shows that it is still a ways from being mainstream and acceptable to Apple and big brands.

A campaign by Toyota, in which it created an iPhone “theme” aimed specifically at jailbroken iPhone users, got pulled after Apple asked Toyota to halt its activities, in the wake of the campaign getting lots of attention from bloggers over the past few days.

The campaign, in which Toyota promoted its Scion car by way of a customised iPhone interface, was originally published via the ModMyi jailbroken app directory on Cydia on February 10.

When ModMyi’s founder, Kyle Matthews, wrote a blog post describing the theme and the existence of a new major brand advertiser on the platform, several bloggers picked up the story as evidence of a growing market targeting users of jailbroken iPhones.

That got the attention of Apple, too, which apparently then asked Toyota to pull the app. When Toyota’s mobile ad agency Velti contacted ModMyi, Velti explained that Toyota wanted to stop the campaign to “maintain their good relationship with Apple.”

The incident underscores how a maturing iOS ecosystem is bound to produce more of these kinds of situations, in which brands and publishers will inevitably come up against Apple in their attempt to make original and innovative mobile content that will catch the eye of avid iPhone users.

Apple of course is trying to accommodate new approaches to content, too — but within its own controlled framework. In mobile ads, this has taken the form of iAd, but that has been a slow-burner so far — partly because of the high fees, approvals, and other checks that Apple has placed on those who might potentially use the network. Ironically, Apple itself has today released a new app — iAd Gallery — to showcase iAds and raise their profile a bit more.

What about the jailbroken side? Jailbreaking was declared legal by U.S. authorities in July 2010. It’s found some significant traction among users:

Based on the number of individual devices that have logged in to the ModMyi Cydia storefront in the last week, there are between 4 million and 5 million “active jailbreakers” using that network. Jay Freeman, who developed the Cydia jailbroken app directory, estimates that between eight percent and nine percent of all iOS devices are currently jailbroken, which works out to 10-15 million iOS-based devices.

Kyle Matthews, the founder and owner of ModMyi.com, which hosted the Toyota theme and ad campaign, tells mocoNews that the theme had attracted just under 1,200 before it got pulled.

Not a huge number, especially considering the heat the news caused. Matthews explains this was without much marketing behind it: the accompanying ad campaign, which only went live days ago before it too was pulled, “was going to start pointing to it heavily,” he explained in an email. (The attention the campaign got in the press would have helped, too.)

Toyota was definitely not the first advertiser for ModMyi on Cydia, even if was the biggest: Matthews says that ModMyi has worked with “most of the major ad networks,” and it has had buy-ins “from many large companies, although Toyota was the largest corporation to focus specifically on advertising within Cydia.” In all, it sees between 8 million and 10 million ad impressions daily. (ModMyi also runs a web-based community that offers news, iOS product and software reviews, and iOS device help.)

Is the Toyota ad a bellwether, one way or the other? Matthews says no. There have not been any other brands interested in advertising on ModMyi’s Cydia repository, not before or since the news of the Toyota campaign broke. “There are many large brands advertising on ModMy properties through the various networks we use, but we have not had any more big business direct focus on jailbreak.”

But he remains hopeful that as the jailbreak community gets bigger and more established, big brands will take root, just as they eventually did in the wider world of mobile advertising: “I don’t think this will scare anyone off, no. The jailbreak market is as large a niche within iOS users, as Mac users are a niche in the personal computer market. Major corporations would do well not to ignore such a large and active community.”

  1. The few developers that wrote the app… knew all about jailbreaking.

    “Toyota Corp” has no idea what “jailbreaking” even means.

    Apple as since informed them. “Toyota Corp” immediately realized what a (very few) members of their staff had done… and instantly canned the entire idea.

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    1. Ingrid Lunden Wednesday, April 6, 2011

      Hi Wendy-is that your guess or do you actually have proof of that? Ultimately, someone in marketing would have made that decision, and yes I could imagine the whole thing appearing innocuous until Apple decided it wasn’t.

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  2. in 1984 Apple threw the hammer at Big Brother…in 2011 Apple is Big Brother

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  3. I’m sure Toyota would feel the same way if Apple promoted a way to rewrite the software that runs the Prius to advertise Apple products.

    It’s all fun and games until someone pokes their eye out.

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