Spurned by Apple, developer thrives in hacked iPhone market

The iPhone developer whose Podcaster application was rejected by Apple and banned from a beta-test distribution channel has turned to the hacked-phone market, he said today.

Through the Cydia installer, Alex Sokirynsky last week began selling Podcaster to iPhone owners who have hacked their phones to accept unauthorized third-party programs.

Prior to the launch of Apple’s App Store in July, the only way users could install non-Apple software on their iPhones was to modify them, or “jail-break” them, with one of several hacker tools.

Podcaster has been downloaded more than 16,000 times in its first week of availability, Sokirynsky said in an e-mail today. He is offering a 14-day free trial and selling activation codes for $4.99.

Last month, Sokirynsky used Apple’s own Ad Hoc distribution service to sell over 1,000 copies of Podcaster at $9.99 each after Apple rejected his application to App Store, the only Apple-authorized iPhone online market. At App Store Apple’s online iPhone mart some programs can be downloaded for free and some not.

Within days of launching Podcaster via Ad Hoc, however, Apple blocked Sokirynsky by shutting down his account.

Ad Hoc was designed by Apple as a low-volume channel for distributing iPhone applications to beta testers, or for rolling out custom iPhone software within an enterprise.

That’s when he turned to jail-broken iPhones. “It took less than a day to rework Podcaster,” he said, referring to the time it took to tweak the application for Cydia, an open-source iPhone application installer. Sokirynsky declined to name sales figures for Podcaster, but he said he had had “some sales.”

The new price is only half of what he was charging when he was distributing Podcaster via Ad Hoc. “I had to charge $9.99 before because it took so long (20 min.) to set up each user,” Sokirynsky told a user last week on Twitter.

“With Cydia, I don’t have to do anything.”

After Apple bumped him from Ad Hoc, Sokirynsky said he would port Podcaster to other mobile phone operating systems, including Google Inc.’s Android, which will power the G1 smart phone that T-Mobile Inc. is expected to launch later this month. Those plans now seem to be on hold, however.

“I did download the Android SDK, but I have not had any time to work with it,” Sokirynsky said. “I am actually working on a new app for the App Store, [but] I am staying away from Apple’s core business plan completely.”

According to Sokirynsky, Apple turned down Podcaster because it duplicated some of the functionality of the company’s iTunes music software.

Apple has not responded to several requests for comment on its App Store application process or using Ad Hoc to sell software.

Meanwhile, a great deal of controversy has surrounded Apple’s rejection of Sokirynsky’s Podcaster app.

Apple’s rejection was to the point. “The Apple rep said, ‘Since Podcaster assists in the distribution of podcasts, it duplicates the functionality of the Podcast section of iTunes’,” Sokirynsky said in a post to his blog. “That’s right folks, it duplicates the functionality of the desktop version of iTunes.”

iTunes, which is available in versions for Windows and Mac OS X, connects to Apple’s online music store, plays music and other audio and video content, and synchronizes the iPhone to data, including music, stored on the computer.

Podcaster allows iPhone and iPod Touch users to subscribe to, manage, download and listen to podcasts without first downloading them in iTunes on a Mac or Windows PC.

“I was very surprised,” Sokirynsky said in an e-mail. He cited several examples of similar overlap – calculator applications, for example, as well as other music-playing applications – where Apple has allowed third-party developers to sell their wares on the App Store.

Online, the reaction to Sokirynsky’s rejection was overwhelmingly negative, with one iPhone developer flatly saying he was through with Apple. “I will never write another iPhone application for the App Store as currently constituted,” said Fraser Speirs in a post of his own last Friday.

Speirs called on Apple to publish clear rules for what will be accepted and what will not, and to add some kind of pre-approval procedure to the App Store application process.

“You have to wonder if Apple wants the App Store to be a museum of poorly designed nibware written by dilettante Mac OS X/iPhone OS switcher-developers and hobbyist students,” Speirs said. “That’s what will happen if companies who intend to invest serious resources in bringing an original idea to the App Store are denied a reasonable level of confidence in their expectation of profit.”

Sokirynsky said he appreciated the support from Speirs and other bloggers who railed at Apple. “I’m happy that he is taking such a stand,” Sokirynsky said. “He is saying that we want change, some clear rules and better communication and a faster response.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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