Cydia moves from jailbroken iPhones, iPads to the Mac - can it succeed?

Cydia, the unofficial app store for jailbroken iPhones and iPads, is planning a Mac version. As Macs aren't a closed platform, is it something Mac users need or want?

One of the big features during Apple's Back to the Mac event in October was the preview of the next iteration of Mac OS X – Lion (a.k.a. Mac OS X 10.7). Lion borrows a number of user interface concepts from the Apple's iOS, which powers the iPhone and the iPad. While almost all the features previewed won't be available until Lion ships sometime next year, one will be coming to Macs running Snow Leopard (Mac OS X 10.6, which is the current Mac OS X release) as early as next month: the Mac App Store.

Apple has seen a lot of success with the iOS App Store and it seems natural that company would bring that experience to the Mac. In fact, it's been somewhat of an expected concept in computing for quite some time and Google's web app store (released last week in advance of Chrome OS netbooks) borrows heavily from the concept as well.

A Mac App Store offers a lot of potential for users: a single source for discovering and purchasing applications, one-click purchase/download/install as on iOS devices, a single secure payment mechanism, automatic updates, and presumably one-click uninstall as well. For developers, particularly smaller developers, it offers an ability to compete on a level playing field where there's no need to worry about getting titles onto store shelves or making them available online and dealing with promotion, payment, and other details.

Some developers aren't happy that Apple will be curating the Mac App Store and taking a 30% cut of sales like it does with the iOS App Store. A particular point appears to be Apple's refusal to allow beta software or software released using a shareware/demo model, both of which are common for many titles available online. To a certain extent, I'm not surprised by this. Apple is only going to want to feature polished and stable titles and it is planning the Mac App Store as a solid storefront for sales, which obviously conflicts with the idea of bets or a shareware mentality.

Of course, free but limited or ad-supported versions of titles, common in the iOS App Store, are also being excluded, which doesn't make a lot of sense (though develoeprs could theoretically post betas or demos online outside of the Mac App Store).

As a result of these complaints, the creator of Cydia is planning to offer Cydia for Mac as an alternative app store for Mac users. If you're not familiar with Cydia, it is an alternate app store for jailbroken iOS devices. It has a very app store-like feel and lives as an application on jailbroken devices (and is installed by default by almost all jailbreaking tools). Cydia offers developers that choose not to adhere to Apple's development guidelines and App Store restrictions a place to showcase and offer their apps to users who have jailbroken their iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch.

Although jailbreakers represent a small minority of iOS users (estimated to be about 10%), there is more than enough interest and demand among users and developers to have made Cydia a success. And, if you're willing to jailbreak your iOS device (which will void your warranty and could cause problems with the device in the future including exposure to malware, but which the Library of Congress ruled legal under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act), there are a lot of innovative applications available via Cydia.

The question that I can't help asking is: what's the point of Cydia for Mac? Cydia for iOS meets a very clear challenge in that there is no other app store alternative for locating, purchasing, and installing non-approved iOS apps. This is because Apple is maintaining iOS as a closed platform.

Mac OS X, however, is not a closed platform and isn't intended to become one. Apple's motivations for keeping it open may be varied, but the potential loss of major developers (Microsoft and Adobe come immediately to mind) if Apple cuts off non-App Store installation of software or enforces stringent guidelines would be disastrous for Apple and a death knell for the Mac.

With scores of excellent online sources for Mac software (commercial, shareware, and free/open source) including an existing app store like option in Bodega, there's no clear need Cydia. Developers who eschew Apple's terms still have plenty of options for selling their software. Sites like Mac Update, MacAppStorm, Pure-Mac, Mac Softpedia, MacShareware.com, FreeMacWare, and even Apple's own Mac Downloads directory are all excellent places to find Mac software of all forms (and often with ratings and reviews). Tools like App Updates, MacUpdate Desktop, and App Fresh can even handle maintaining applications as up to date (regardless of where they were found/downloaded from).

Ultimately, there's nothing inherently wrong with Cydia for Mac joining these ranks, though some users may avoid the service simply because of it's association with jailbreaking iOS devices. Similarly, given its jailbreaking associations, it seems likely that Apple would try to dissuade users from Cydia (fearing that comfort with the service for Macs might lead to more jailbreaking). Whether this would be some type of explicit ban (which I don't think would be wise or enforceable) or more subtle, like Apple Store employees discouraging its use isn't clear. In the end, the plan just perplexes me because it just doesn't seem like something that users are lacking or are demanding to have for the Mac (unlike on the iOS front). Put together, these reasons lead me to seriously wonder what, if any, kind of success Cydia for Mac might enjoy.

What do you think? Is there a need or potential demand for Cydia on the Mac? Is Apple going to far by banning demo titles from the Mac App Store? Share your thoughts in the comments

Ryan Faas writes about personal technology for ITworld. Learn more about Faas' published works and training and consulting services at www.ryanfaas.com. Follow him on Twitter @ryanfaas.

Insider: How the basic tech behind the Internet works
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies