Cracking the iPhone
As with every other act of prohibition, Jobs' ban on adult apps for the device has sparked the creation of a vibrant black market in which industrious (or insane) users risk destroying their iPhones to override the native operating system, and developers work in plain sight to build adult-themed applications that they distribute through channels not approved by Apple.
But is it worth it? Apple vigorously — if inconsistently — polices its App Store for any adult content, rejecting all apps that even skirt close to having adult themes or even being able to access adult themes. Furthermore, a black market is still a black market. Can't these developers get into all kinds of trouble? Maybe, but that doesn't stop them.
Ben Geoffreys is one of these enterprising developers. He's the technical director at the AdultAppStore.com, one of many online clearinghouses for adult apps.
For the uninitiated, Apple's iPhone can run any number of small applications, which users must buy and install through the company's App Store, which only offers apps specifically approved by Apple through a shadowy vetting process that has drawn criticism from the tech world.
AdultAppStore.com offers two adult apps and one link to an adult website that's been optimized for the iPhone’s web browser. One of the apps is called iSteamy and fulfills everything a user would want out of an adult app. It delivers adult pictures, video and audio, all through the iPhone’s sleek interface.
Other adult apps available for cracked iPhones include iBrate, which turns the device into a makeshift vibrator; Kama Sutra Training; iPhone Porn Grid; and One Tap Porn.
But again: To even install these apps, users have to override their iPhone's native OS in a process called "jailbreaking" or "cracking." For perspective, jailbreaking an iPhone involves anywhere from five to 10 steps — all of which are listed on the iSteamy site, among others — and any of these steps, if done incorrectly, can ruin the device.
That danger has kept the iPhone app black market smaller than its mainstream counterpart, although exact figures aren't available. Despite the difference in the size of the user base, Geoffreys told XBIZ that it's still worth the time and effort to work in the iPhone's red light district.
"The black market is definitely a profitable area to work in," he said. "There is a big demand for this kind of app, and not only from consumers but also corporations in the adult area. We are regularly talking with some of the big names about releasing iPhone apps."
Geoffreys didn't offer any specific names, but one major adult company that considered — and rejected — the idea of working in the iPhone's black market is the Score Group. The Miami-based adult company focuses on very busty models and has released two adult apps, but not for the iPhone. Instead, Score has directed its efforts to building apps for Google's competing mobile operating system, Android.
Score's Lio Berlanga told XBIZ that his company considered building apps for the iPhone but decided it wasn't worth the effort, mainly because they would have to build a non-explicit app in order to be approved for Apple's App Store, and Berlanga said that market was over-saturated.
"They must add about 200 apps a day to the App Store," he said, "and so many of them have women in bikinis."
In addition, Berlanga said that the development platform for the iPhone was difficult to learn, and the user base in the black market is much too small to warrant the effort.
But Berlanga said that Score has encountered similar problems developing for the Android platform. Unlike the iPhone operating system, which only runs on the iPhone, the Android OS is open-source and can be run on virtually any mobile device. To date, there haven't been many high-profile devices built to run it. The biggest release so far has been T-Mobile's G1, although AT&T has a new device in the works.
In any event, Score developed two versions of the same app for Android: JackandJiggle.com. One version offers non-explicit content, while the other goes for the full monty. Berlanga said that like Apple, Google doesn't allow adult apps into its counterpart to Apple's App Store, which Google simply calls Marketplace. Unlike Apple, however, Android users are welcome to install adult apps on their devices without jailbreaking them.
But there's still a problem. Without the natural traffic of Google's Marketplace, app developers must rely on themselves to generate traffic and buzz surrounding an app — much in the same way black market app developers for the iPhone miss out on the huge traffic that blasts through the App Store every day.
That hasn't stopped AdultAppStore.com's Geoffreys from continuing to develop adult apps for the iPhone and send them in for rejection.
"Apple has had varied responses to our apps," he said. "Some of our apps have been stuck in review for months with no explanation and no answer to our emails. Most apps are rejected after seven days with a simple explanation that it contains adult or offensive material. If this is the case, then we look to release them onto the black market."
Geoffreys maintains that black market developers aren't doing anything illegal. After all, they're using Apple's own development platform to build these apps, but although Apple hasn't filed any lawsuits yet against any part of the iPhone black market, there are other possible consequences.
For example, Berlanga noted that Apple periodically updates its operating system to make life for jailbroken iPhones much more difficult.
But all of this intrigue might be moot, because Apple recently introduced rating-based parental controls. The latest version of the iPhone's operating system includes parental controls that let users restrict the iPhone's usage by age, with levels for 4+, 9+, 12+ and 17+.
According to online reports, Apple has already started to backtrack on its policy against some adult-oriented apps. Specifically, Apple originally rejected an app for the band Nine Inch Nails that included profanity, but with the release of the new iPhone OS, they've sent the app's developers a notice that they can resubmit. Apple has given no word on whether this new position will include a new acceptance for adult apps.
Adding a formal rating system may help relieve Apple of some headaches. The company has drawn fire for its maddeningly inconsistent standards for approving and rejecting apps. The App Store includes hundreds of apps that push the boundaries of adult, but not the Eucalyptus ebook reader because it could be used to download the "Kama Sutra." And that's just one example.
That said, the disappearance of the black market might deprive Apple of one of its great strengths in the black market, at least according to the online tech literati. Analyst Matt Buchanan of Gizmodo.com mounted an extended argument in favor of the black market.
"The black market app economy can and does fill the void," he said. "Apple might seek to shut it down, but the iPhone's two-class app economy may prove to be its greatest strength."
Another analyst, Tim Wu of Slate.com, praised the act of jailbreaking.
"Unlocking works, is doable, and improves the iPhone," Wu said. "But while unlocking can be fun, it's still a vaguely scary process, a little like installing your own car brakes."
And despite all the hassle, Geoffreys said he's not giving up.
"We are big fans of the adult market," he said. "Initially, we wanted to try and point out to Apple that the market wants adult apps, and slowly I think we're making ground."