iPhone developers who already have to fight for app approval, exposure and marketing techniques now have a new hurdle to overcome: instantaneous app-cracking. Although cracking iPhone applications for use on a jailbroken iPhone or iPod touch is not new, the method has never been so easy or so accessible.
Crackulous, an application developed on the Hackulous forums (Hackulous is a community dedicated to cracking iPhone apps; back in my day we called these warez boards), makes it possible to "crack" any purchased App Store application. That app can then be transferred for use on other devices.
Although the larger discussion of intellectual property, DRM, peer-to-peer transfers and what constitutes "piracy" is filled with large gray areas, Crackulous strikes me as about as black and white as you can get. Any way you slice it, this is piracy. This isn't about fighting DRM or fighting what some see as a draconian application platform, this is theft.
While pirated applications are hardly a new phenomenon, we still have relatively unsullied ground in the world of mobile applications. The Symbian platform appears to have a warez community, but BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and Android (though Android is currently not selling any pay apps at this time) are relatively piracy free.
What makes App Store piracy different from other types of software piracy (mobile or otherwise) is that developers don't have the opportunity to strengthen or change the protection scheme that ties an application to a user account. Because all applications must go through Apple in order to reach the App Store (which is equally controlled by Apple), developers can't fight back, they can only wait for Apple to try to strengthen the protection scheme or introduce other counter-piracy measures.
What are developers supposed to do, other than lobby Apple to make changes to make this sort of decryption more complex? Because devices must be jailbroken in order to run cracked applications, an obvious answer could be for Apple to try to make devices more difficult to jailbreak.
To be clear, jailbreaking does not equal piracy, but to deny that there are many users who jailbreak for the sole purpose of running cracked applications is just naive. By taking potential sales away from the App Store, Crackulous takes potential money away from Apple. Apple will respond. How successful the cat and mouse game will ultimately be, only time will tell, but Apple will respond.
The defenders of applications like Crackulous say that if Apple offered a trial period on apps, this wouldn't be necessary. Perhaps. But I think it is far more likely that developments like this will only make trial periods less and less likely.
Think about it: Right now the only way to crack an application is to buy it. What happens when you can download apps for a "trial" without paying anything? Not even the initial purchase has to be made before the application is cracked and ready to be downloaded by the masses.
I agree that Apple needs to develop a better way for users to either try apps, or conversely, have the ability to request a refund for apps that don't work as promised, but cracking the apps hardly seems to be the solution. All applications like Crackulous really seem to do is undermine the legitimate uses for jailbreaking that may exist, and encourage Apple to make its process more closed, rather than more open.
[Editor's Note: This is a thorny issue on a lot of levels and we know reader response will be passionate in both directions. While we're open to discussing the issue of piracy, ethics and jailbreaking in the comments, please know that any comments containing torrent links to warez or direct downloads for cracked apps will be removed. Repeated infractions will force us to block the offending users and/or close comments to the post.]