I debated covering this, because in no way do I or TheAppleBlog endorse the cracking and/or illegal distribution of software, but it definitely deserves attention because of the potential implications it has for the future of Apple’s App Store. A new app available for jailbroken iPhones called “Crackulous” now allows owners of phones running the hacked firmware to remove the copyright protection from any app available legitimately through the official App Store. Push-button simple cracking means that torrent sites will likely soon be flooded with .ipa files installable via iTunes on any iPhone or iPod Touch, jailbroken or not.
Until now, getting cracked versions of apps onto Apple handset devices has required jailbreaking, and there is probably a significant portion of their userbase who avoided trying for just that reason. The availability of easy-to-install, free versions of any and all apps currently in the App Store does not bode well for sales, at least not if piracy rates in comparable areas like PC games and software are any indication.
Likely this will spark a cat-and-mouse game between Apple and would-be pirates, with Apple introducing new, more difficult to crack copyright protections, and Crackulous developers updating their software to counter as necessary. The problem in this case is the issue of legacy software. Apps already approved and downloaded by users will lack any protection updates unless Apple conducts a total overhaul and upgrades the protection on the existing 15,000-plus applications. This would obviously be extremely time-consuming, and annoying for iPhone users, unless Apple can find a way to quietly push a fix to all devices without requiring action from individual developers and/or users.
Speaking as an iPhone user, the only reason to even worry about this app is because Apple still refuses to implement a trial or demo infrastructure into the App Store. That means it’s up to developers to release a “lite” or stripped-down version of their apps if they want to offer users a preview. Not being one to part with my hard-earned money very easily, I see the appeal of getting to try out an app before spending even $2 or $3 on it, and cracked apps, though unethical and illegal, offer that possibility.
Hopefully Apple waits to see how many iPhone users end up actually crossing over into using cracked apps before making any moves that might alienate and inconvenience those of us who continue to use the App Store legitimately. An overreaction on Apple’s part could do more damage than the inroad Crackulous creates for piracy.