In what may be the weirdest Apple-related news you’ll read today, Toyota introduced an official Scion-branded jailbreak iPhone theme Saturday for distribution in the Cydia store. This marks the first time a major corporation has embraced the iOS jailbreak community.
The theme itself is actually kind of garish, as you might expect from something completely focused on selling you a single product. It’s all about the Scion brand, and I suppose it might appeal to a few new Scion owners, but I can’t imagine many others lining up to download the theme. But of course, the theme itself isn’t really what’s interesting here. It’s the fact that Toyota has decided to treat the jailbreak community as a legitimate entity worthy of some marketing spend.
In a blog post on the Toyota campaign, Modmyi.com addresses many of the reasons behind Toyota’s decision to embrace jailbreakers. According to the site, roughly 8 or 9 percent of all iDevices worldwide are jailbroken, which translates into around 10 to 15 million. That’s a very sizeable group of potential customers essentially being ignored by the corporate world. That reach, combined with the ability to do things you could never do with a vanilla iPhone, like completely reskin every aspect of the system’s user interface or even get around limitations such as the absence of Flash, makes a jailbroken iDevice more attractive to advertisers, in many ways, than one that isn’t hacked.
But it’s precisely because this strategy circumvents Apple entirely that Cupertino isn’t likely to take this new development in stride. It’s true that jailbreaking has become a little more legitimate recently, as the DMCA ruled that the process of jailbreaking isn’t illegal — even if it isn’t definitely “legal,” either. But Apple still doesn’t condone or approve of jailbreaking in any way, takes steps to prevent it from happening, and continues to warn that it may void your device’s warranty. And since major companies funneling advertising dollars into the jailbreak economy potentially prevents Apple from collecting some of those revenues itself, I’d be surprised if the company allowed this sort of thing to become commonplace without a challenge. Apple could also levy punishments against companies that take this route, maybe by barring Toyota from legitimate App Store access, for instance.
In fact, this partnership between Toyota and Cydia (there is a financial agreement between the two entities) could become a lightning rod for the jailbreak community. Apple has been content to play a relatively tame game of cat and mouse with jailbreakers until now (unlike Sony, which immediately went after jailbreaker Geohot for attempting to open the platform in court), but the more jailbreaking is able to circumvent its ability to generate revenue for iOS, the more likely it becomes that Apple will devote more resources to stopping the practice altogether.
Calls to Toyota and attempts to contact Apple regarding this issue haven’t yet produced a response. We’ll update if and when any official comment is forthcoming.