Thursday, November 20, 2014

PCalc Piracy

Filip Truta interviews James Thomson:

You recently said on Twitter (I quote), “according to my stats, around 70% of the copies of PCalc on iOS are pirated.” That’s a staggering number! Especially for a calculator app. Why do you think this is happening? Could it be the $9.99 price tag?

It’s certainly higher than I thought it would be, but it’s certainly not unusual. I’ve heard of people who develop games who are seeing more like a 90% piracy rate! I think there are newer ways to pirate apps that don’t necessarily require a jailbroken phone, and there will always be people who don’t want to pay for things. PCalc has had a lot of positive publicity over the last few months, and I think that’s probably contributing to it getting pirated as well. I don’t think it’s down to the price though – people still pirate 99c apps.

But the other thing is, a 70% piracy rate doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m losing 70% of my sales. Most of those people wouldn’t have bought a copy in the first place, so while it still bothers me on an idealogical level, I am not too worried yet. But, if that number continues to rise over time, then I think it indicates a cause for concern.

With iOS so locked down, you’d think this would be a problem Apple could solve for non-jailbroken phones.

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"With iOS so locked down, you’d think this would be a problem Apple could solve for non-jailbroken phones."

And their incentive for doing so would be what, exactly?

Not only the control; you'd think that for 30% of all app sales Apple would actually behave like a partner and do something about it.

Imagine a retail situation like this, where you find out that the store you're selling to – exclusively, by the way – has so little care for your product that 70% of it ends up stolen. How much longer would you sell through them? It sucks that on iOS, you don't have a choice (and probably never will).

Remember the golden rule of the App Store: they don't need you, but you need them. They care about and tolerate developers to the extent that it makes their platform valuable enough to sell more iPhones.

AFAIK it is impossible for individuals to install pirated apps on non-jail broken iPhones and the 70% figure therefore must be 100% from jail broken iPhones, over which Apple has no real say. Is there info that the pirated software is on non-jail broken iPhones?

@Ed Yes, it sounds like it really is possible without jailbreaking. Perhaps stolen enterprise provisioning profiles, or ones registered illegitimately.

70% piracy rate seems pretty good. Piracy rate for PC software is always around 90% to 95%, and I don't remember anything ever nudging that in any meaningful way — not DRM, not online activations, not pack-in scratch-and-sniff cards, not code wheels. The only thing that every gets lower piracy rates are online games that require an account to play (e.g. World of Warcraft).

So getting it to 70% seems like a pretty astonishing feat on Apple's part.

At any rate, I think every second developers spend thinking about this is a second wasted. I think of piracy as a form of subsidy. Paying adults are subsidizing software for poor kids and students. If these people couldn't pirate *your* app, they'd pirate somebody else's, and if that's the choice they have, wouldn't you rather they used *your* software? That way, at least you have the chance of turning them into paying customers later, once they have money.

@nb The retail comparison is not the right one as the retailer had already purchased the products from you. So if the products get stolen, it's the retailer that loses money.

With the App Store:
- you do not get any cent from the apps that are downloaded "for free".
- Apple only loses pocket change by providing these downloads.

I don’t know anyone with pirated software on iOS, and I don’t know how to install it myself. I did Google it, and I found that there is (or was) a “for pay” tool to install cracked software, but I only found an article about it (not the actual tool), and you couldn’t pay me to touch such a thing.

So I’m a little skeptical about the 70%. Perhaps the crack-tool is big in some foreign market and it just lists “latest cracks” which made a lot of people download PCalc and try it once, but I really doubt that 70% of active users are using a pirated version.

@Allan: Getting pirated apps onto non-jailbroken iPhones basically involves installing an app store that uses the enterprise app distribution system to install itself. There are plenty of tutorials on YouTube that explain how it works; unsurprisingly, all of the tutorials seem to be narrated by children. That probably also explains why you don't know anyone with pirated software on their iPhones: the people who do that are mostly kids, and they're not telling you about it :-)

These comments from nearly ten years ago are fascinating now. Not a thing has changed with the App Store. And this also partially explains why Apple is so worried about third party app stores even now.

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