As we previously wrote, the jailbreaking tool Evasi0n has been immensely popular among the iOS users. In merely four days, Evasi0n was downloaded more than 7 million times, according to Forbes. Is this a sign that consumers are unhappy with Apple’s closed ecosystem and would prefer a more open operating system? Apple historically has released a new operating system once a year, and jailbreakers are hoping that iOS 7 will be more open than its predecessors.
Concept of an “Open” Mobile OS
First, let’s discuss the myth of an "open" operating system: An “open” operating system is essentially an OS that allows users to customize their device as little or as much as they desire. While most consider Google’s Android platform to be “open,” Cydia creator Jay Freeman, a.k.a. "Saurik," said in an email to IBTimes that he disagrees:
“Android isn't open in the way people mean by this," Freeman said. "It is actually misleading to use the word 'open' for it, because Android's user base are not people buying phones, but hardware manufacturers. As a person making a phone, Android is 'open,' because it is open source and is licensed in such a way as to be modifiable. However, when you build your phone, you decide whether the resulting device gets to be open or not.
"Android as a developer platform is also not open: Just like with Apple, you have to confine yourselves to little boxes. Yes, anyone can write an app, and you don't have to tell Google -- well, again, most phones are closed from this freedom, as Android isn't open -- but can you modify the lock screen? Can you change the status bar? No. You can't do these things, because Android doesn't offer a way to do them, any more than Apple does. The only things you can do on Android devices that is more flexible than 'an app' are one, launchers, two, keyboards, and three, widgets.”
By jailbreaking iOS devices and rooting Android phones and tablets, the operating system becomes completely customizable and open, and, due to the number of users who have downloaded the Evasi0n jailbreak tool since it came out on Feb. 4, an open mobile OS is something many iOS users crave.
The reasoning is simple: If people didn’t want to customize their devices, they wouldn’t jailbreak or root their mobile gadgets. The fact that more than 7 million people jailbroke their phones in only four days means that Apple is producing something that users want to change. That said, it is unlikely jailbreaking will influence Apple's philosophy of a closed operating system.
Will Apple Open Up iOS?
Analysts, fans, developers, and even high-ranking Apple execs have been pleading with the company to open up iOS. Just earlier this year, pod2g, one of the members of the Evad3rs team that developed the Evasi0n jailbreaking tool, went on a Twitter rant, tweeting to his 418,000-plus followers that he hoped one day Apple would open up its operating system. His rant sparked a Twitter petition called “WeWantAnOpeniOS,” which has managed to get more than 11,000 signatures.
Similarly, Steve Wozniak, Apple’s co-founder, made a public request for the company to open up its system for all users in May 2012. At an event in Sydney, Australia, Wozniak said, “"I think that Apple could be just as strong and good and be open, but how can you challenge it when a company is making that much money?"
It seems like money is the main reason that Apple refuses to allow minor tweaks and fixes from Cydia that alter the operating system. In an article talking about Apple's future with open platforms, the Electronic Frontier Foundation said Apple makes too much money from the App Store to allow it to open up even slightly. Apple pockets 30 percent of the profits from sales in the App Store, which means Apple keeps 29.7 cents for every 99-cent app sold (the developer keeps 69.3 cents). However, if Apple remodeled the App Store after the Cydia Store and gave the majority of money back to developers, even though it might attract even more developers to the ecosystem, it might not earn as much revenue each year.
For developers, Cydia is a much more lucrative marketplace because a greater percentage of money goes into their pockets; however, the marketplace's 4.5 million users pale in comparison to the 500 million devices with access to the App Store.
In addition, Apple has been notoriously opposed to jailbreaking. While Google says Android users are free to do whatever they please with its software, as Freeman said in an interview, the hardware prevents them from altering the Android operating system drastically. However, Apple locks its hardware from access to the root code or the administrator level, and adds security features to the software as well.
That said, opening up iOS may be something that Apple should be considering. The company has recently been listening to consumer trends and altering its unofficial code of restrictions and guidelines in order to accommodate consumers. For example, when iPhone users started complaining about the size of the screen on the iPhone 4S, saying that is wasn’t as big as the Samsung Galaxy S3, Apple realized that a bigger screen was something users wanted on the iPhone. In September 2012, Apple announced for the first time it had drastically changed the design for the iPhone 5, bumping the screen size up from 3.5 inches to 4 inches.
The iPad Mini is another recent example of Apple breaking its own rules for the benefit of the consumer. The story goes back to 2010, when Steve Jobs famously said that 7-inch tablets were “dead on arrival.” Apple may have jumpstarted the tablet market that year, but the company has begun losing its once-dominant market share to Android tablets, like the Kindle Fire or Nexus 7. Small tablets became all the rage almost overnight and Apple realized it was losing out on potential customers and profits by remaining adamant against selling a smaller tablet. But just two years after Jobs trashed 7-inch tablets, Apple released the 7.9-inch iPad Mini last October, which has been a great success for the company.
Clearly, listening to recent consumer trends has paid off well for the Cupertino, Calif., tech giant, so opening its operating system, even slightly, should be something worth consideration for Apple and its bottom line.
The Future of Mobile Operating Systems
Jailbreaking is big and seems to be getting bigger. With the help of fixed release dates, increased anticipation and the ever-expanding number of iOS devices, the release of jailbreak tools like Evasi0n is getting almost as much press as Apple’s famous product launches.
However, the notion of an “open” operating system, in both Android and Apple platforms, is essentially wrong: Neither platform is truly open, just varying degrees of closed. While users may want an open iOS, and Apple has recently been listening to consumers and altering its previously rigid restrictions for the good of the company and consumer alike, opening up iOS seems almost too good to be true.
Cydia's Freeman agrees, telling IBTimes that he would be shocked to see Apple open up iOS.
“I’m just trying to imagine the reaction, the legitimate reaction, that would actually occur,” Freeman said. “The actual reaction would be shock. If it happened tomorrowand someone asked me, 'Could you comment on Apple doing it [opening up their iOS],' I can’t imagine what I’d possibly say other than stammering into a microphone.”
While the time may be ripe for a complete overhaul of iOS, starting with it becoming open-source, Apple’s rigidity on the issue may force users to use jailbreaking tools like Evasi0n for a little bit longer.