In defense of Cydia, the jailbreak app store

In defense of Cydia, the jailbreak app store

Georgia recently wrote an editorial about the frustration she's experienced using Cydia, the jailbreak app store. I'm a long time advocate of jailbreak and the benefits it brings with it. While Cydia may not be perfect, and it definitely isn't the same experience as using Apple's App Store, there are reasons for why it works the way it does, and some huge advantages that come along with it.

When you use an iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad, you expect your experience to be seamless and intuitive. Apple has long been known for creating devices that are extremely accessible to just about anyone, and work incredibly well with other Apple devices. It's like training wheels or rails. As long as you stay on the track, everything goes exactly as it's supposed to. When you decide to jailbreak, however, you're deciding to go off that Apple approved track, and you have to realize your experience is going to change.

You're not sacrificing much. Your iPhone will still make calls, your iPad will still be able to visit websites, and you can still buy anything you want from the official iTunes App Store, the same as always.

But you're gaining a lot. You can tweak your device so it behaves the way you want it to, including providing quick access to settings and in-app SMS replies, and you can theme it so it looks the way you like, including icons and user interface elements.

A stock iPhone or iPad user is typically after the convenience and ease of use Apple provides. A jailbroken iOS user is typically willing to part with some of that convenience and ease of use in exchange for the additional functionality and control.

Cydia is not the App Store

App Store loading process compared to Cydia

One of the biggest frustrations new jailbreakers have to overcome is Cydia, the jailbreak app store. If you've decide you want more control over your iPhone or iPad, and the ability to install applications and utilities that are not given the Apple stamp of approval, there's a price to be paid. You're classifying yourself as an expert and a power user, and you have to take on the responsibility that comes with it. You've entered a different level and you'll have to check some of your carefully curated expectations at the door.

While Cydia does play host to almost all available jailbreak apps, just as the App Store does for official applications, the similarities pretty much stop there.

The App Store is a simple "search, tap, enter password, and you're done" experience. Cydia is not.

Load some vs. load all

First, Cydia takes a lot longer to load and update. There's a reason for that. Cydia doesn't handle data in the same way the App Store does. The App Store, for example, has chosen to only present you with 25 applications at a time. That saves time up front but if you'd like to view more, you'll need to tell it by tapping to "View more" button and waiting again. And again, each time.

Cydia actually loads all packages at launch and you can page through every single one of them after the data is done loading.

iOS features before Apple with Jailbreak

The App Store also only loads data from one source -- iTunes. Cydia typically loads data from several different repositories. With the App Store, you're limited to that iTunes data source. With Cydia, you can add additional repositories if you wish.

Manually entering and managing repositories is a more complicated process than the App Store's iTunes-only approach, but it means you have access to a wider range of software, including betas. Downloading beta software isn't something the iTunes App Store supports at all.

It means you have access to cutting edge, even bleeding edge technology. If you're willing to do the work, you'll find ways to get iPad-like gestures (and more) on your iPhone, custom widgets and settings toggles in Notification Center, and other enhancements that may not come to Apple's official iOS for months, if ever. (Apple does seem to take inspiration from jailbreak now and then.)

Cydia has long been the breeding ground for amazing apps and utilities. If I have to wait a few more minutes for packages to load or deal with an occasional error or instability, that's a choice I've made and I'm okay with that trade-off.

Fragmentation vs. functionality

The iTunes App Store handles compatibility in a fairly straight forward manner. If your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch isn't able to run the version of iOS an app requires, you can't install that app. Developers list their requirements and if your device can't meet them, you can't have the app.

There's still a lot of crap in the App Store, some buggy apps slip through (including major apps from major developers like Google and Facebook!), and older devices can glitch or crash more on the most cutting edge, most demanding games, but for the most part you don't have to worry about whether or not an app will run on your device.

Cydia does things a bit differently. While some Cydia packages won't allow you to purchase them if they're not 100% compatible, others do not have this safeguard. There are many repositories you can add to Cydia that aren't curated for compatibility at all.

Generally, the ability to download what you want to download when you want to download it is considered a huge benefit of jailbreak. But with great power comes great responsibility, right? In other words, you have to do your homework. You have to check and make sure what you download is compatible with your device and your version of iOS.

(Incompatible or conflicting apps are often the reason for jailbreak headaches, especially for new users.)

Read release notes and app descriptions, and ask in our Jailbreak Apps Forum and your Cydia experience will be a much more enjoyable one.

Payments and process

Even before Apple introduced the App Store, iTunes was one of the biggest online payment systems in the world. Now they can handle credit cards and other forms of transactions in more parts of the world than just about anyone. Because they completely control iTunes and the App Store, they can also make using their payment system incredibly streamlined and simple. You tap a button, you type in a password, and you're done. One login to rule them all.

Cydia doesn't have that luxury. Cydia is dependent on third-party payment systems, namely Amazon and Paypal.

Apple also has a massive cloud infrastructure so your iTunes account can be tied to all the apps you've ever purchased and those apps can be easily restored to any device you own, new or old.

Again, Cydia doesn't have that type of account authentication system, so they've tied into Google and Facebook.

Apple's way is simple, but it's also without choice or option. You use iTunes or you use nothing. With Cydia you can choose to use Facebook or Google for account authentication, and you can choose to use Amazon or Paypal for payment.

Because the App Store is entirely controlled by Apple, they can store your credit card information and credentials and provide that really simple one tap, one password purchasing experience.

Because Cydia doesn't control Facebook, Google, Amazon, or Paypal, it can't store your credit card information and credentials, and so you do have to enter them more places, and more often, than you do with iTunes.

Again, it's the price of operating outside the Apple approved process, and again, the complexity has drawbacks but it also comes with some benefits.

Conclusion

No system is perfect. Not Apple's iTunes App Store and not Cydia, the jailbreak app store. I'm willing to overlook a lot of Cydia's flaws because I benefit from the apps and utilities it delivers. Without Cydia, many developers would have no way to distribute their apps, and to earn enough money to keep developing them.

While I think what Cydia brings to the table greatly outweighs its problem areas, I do think there's room for improvement. My biggest peeve is actually the organizational method Cydia uses. While discoverability on the App Store is a long standing problem, it's not always easy to find something on Cydia either unless you know what you're looking for or have a lot of time to browse through cluttered sections.

Making it easier to find really great apps and utilities is something that would make the initial Cydia experience better and a lot less overwhelming for new users.

If you're a Cydia user, new or long time, what are your thoughts on its usability? What would you most like to see changed or improved?

Additional resources:

Allyson Kazmucha

Help and how to editor for iMore. I can take apart an iPhone in less than 6 minutes. I also like coffee and Harry Potter more than anyone really should.

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In defense of Cydia, the jailbreak app store

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See, what you fail to mention here is that although Cydia does offer all the above cool tweaks, apps etc ... Ultimately, whether people like to admit it or not it does slow down your device (or makes it laggy at least!)
The slow responsiveness is the biggest bug for me, and I don't have alot of BS tweaks installed - it's a i4 so should be pretty nippy but ever since I JB'd and went down the Cydia route it just seems a little slower, at everything.
I could of course "un-JB", but then I would lose the apps I am currently 'trialing' ;-)
Either way, Cydia is a good thing but be under no illusion that by installing non-Apple approved extensions it causes your Phone/Pad to have to think differently.

What you fail to mention (realize?) is that Cydia does not slow your device down at all. Crap that you choose to install does. This becomes a problem for those who don't have a clue what they are doing.

Oh yes, that's clearly what is happening. Maybe instead of calling someone an idiot (without actually saying it), you should realize that very intelligent and capable people are experiencing these issues.
Just because you "know what you're doing" and you're not having an issue, doesn't mean other people who DO know what they're doing, don't.

You might also try using only legit Cydia apps—using pirated apps like you hinting at might be part of your problem with lagginess.

I've used cydia since rock was still around and it does come with its frustrations. But overall I am okay with it all.
I think if look of cydia was closer to that of the app store that it would encurouge many people to join the JB community and embrace what their devices are capable of. It could be done but would take a lot of time that isn't available for Jay.
The payment steps in cydia should also be as easy as the app store however still secure. PayPal is my choice of payment and I haven't used amazon yet, so I feel maybe connecting my PayPal account to my cydia login would help some.
Thanks for the articles

Really fantastic breakdown. As a new iOS convert and jb novice the detail and realistic comparison you provided is sooo so helpful.
Ive been investigating jb for a while now and haven't read anything the approaches it from your perspective before... That while it's a grand achievement it is still not without frustrations. Most info out there is just "jailbreak is amazing!" with no substance. Thank you, I'll be forwarding this to any of my friends who ask abt pros cons of jailbreaking.

Article is a great intro to why I originally jailbroke my previous iPhones. Stepping out of the "apple" pond and into a bigger ocean of inventiveness opens up more avenues of creativeness and possibilities. And small failures and mis-steps as well..

I have mixed emotions about jailbreak. I understand the reason some "power-users" prefer it over Apple's contained environment system. I have jail-broken my device i4s once and kept it for about a week before restoring it back to normal. I am a power user to the highest degree, however I didn't feel that the JB did anything useful for me and it took away some of the features that I enjoy. For instance after I JB I lost the ability to wirelessly sync with my computer. I could find little to no documentation on this little problem online. There is however an app for this in the Cydia store for $9.99 that fixes the problem but really...? Pay money for something that my phone already did out of the box? I also purchased a few Cydia apps to try to get the "full" experience of JB. There were some I liked such as the one that shows contact photos next to your contacts in your phone-book. That was probably one of my favorite's. Also it seemed that after I JB there were bugs here and there and it just slowed my phone down. I commend the JB community for what they are doing and I am not against it by any means.. I just prefer the environment that Apple provides to users already. It will only get better with time and Apple seems to adapt to what users want even it takes a little longer than we wish. I think they got the whole idea for wireless sync from the JB community if I am not mistaken..

This post is pretty much how I feel, just a bit nicer.  Quite frankly I think while paying for patches and hacks aren't a bad thing, I was converted to the Apple world from the webOS community, and paying more than a buck (let alone $10!) is just not acceptable.  The webOS homebrew community is the epitome of what a homebrew community should be, all patches and mods are free.  Also, my iPad 2 simply doesn't perform the same, and this is with nothing but Cydia installed, so let's stop blaming people for "not knowing what they're doing."  I know exactly wht I'm doing, and have nothing but the bare jailbreak libraries an Cydia installed.  This extra background operations just don't play nice, and your UI enters stutter city, again, with nothing but the bare jailbreak installed.  I give kudos to those that have worked hard to develop this community, but you need to take a look at the philosophies of groups like webOSInternals, who won't settle for anything less than the manufactures intended user experience.

Mike, thanks for your comments! I, too, just came from webOS about 4 months ago after using the Pre and Homebrew tweaks since launch etc.
I've been tempted to JB, but something just doesn't feel right after being spoiled by Homebrew. I'll keep watching to see how JB evolves, though--I'd love to customize like we could with Homebrew. Ain't nothing like the webOS UI, and I think JB lets you do some of that stuff.
But I do like the 4S' stability and predictability, so.....hmmmmm..........?

Interesting. My jailbroken iPhone 4 iOS 5.0.1 wirelessly syncs fine with the stock syncing system. No extra app purchase was needed.

I second this... Haven't even read the article yet. Saw the iPad wallpaper and HAD to have it!
Would compliment my Pixelskin HD case.

I'm little bit disappointed Cydia's author didn't stick to BSD style packaging but rather introduced linux(debian) way of installing software. My humble opinion..
I also miss the option of disabling syncing repo upon Cydia's startup. This should be able to set on demand (as apt-get update works).
I personally don't care much how it looks as longs as it does its job.
JB my 4s made iphone 5 out of it in the instance; big thanks to JB authors!

Cydia is not perfect, but it works for the most part. As mentioned in the article above - they dont have the resources of Apple, so of course it is not as seamless as the App Store.
I agree that organisation of it, the sections & tweaks - could be a lot better. Searching through all the garbage tweaks/themes is the most frustrating part for sure.
I always thought it could use a rating system, or most downloaded section - to show the most used jailbreak tweaks/themes etc. Make it easier to find the good stuff, and easier to ignore the crap.
But my understanding is - that a lot of this organisation, and listings - falls on the repo's themselves, and not Cydia. I still remember reading a post from Saurik about the fact that most packages in the repos could be reduced by up to 70% in size if they were properly indexed and compressed. Loading times for Cydia would dramatically improve if this were done, but it is up the individual dev's submitting the tweaks, and the repo's themselves to clean it up.

REALLY most of the jail breakers i know it is all about not paying for stuff and teathering. Whats that called again? Stealing Grow up

REALLY all of the jailbreakers I know are solely using their jailbreaks to tweak their phones to their liking without using hacked apps. But then again, I tend not to hang around with dirtbags.

Maybe I'm just restless, but it seems to me Cydia is overdue for an overhaul. I used to use Rock. When Cydia bought Rock I expected some change in Cydia's UI or functionality or features, and while Cydia's made a few improvements in terms of an improved theme section and user section, it remains essentially unchanged.
It's queue system is slow and tedious, there is constant loading for searches. All loading and reloading freezes the app completely and allows no functionality. The slight improvements to the user section are nowhere near the features offered by Rock Backups and user accounts (overall simple functionality that just remembers which apps you download), which are not offered by any app. Cydia crashes from time to time, and when it does crash you lose any queue you were making. And the list of 'changes' are only new apps or themes, not updates, and the only way to prevent themes (or any other type of app) from showing up in changes is to turn them off completely.
My biggest issue with Cydia is its monopolistic attitude. Say what you want about Rock's stability, that's not the reason Saurik bought it. He bought it because he was losing users to Rock, people liked the features Rock offered more and they were migrating. And rather than increasing Cydia's own features to compete with Rock (and provide the stability they claimed Rock lacked), they just bought Rock to end the competition. Ensuring that they wouldn't have to worry and could be lax on making any improvements.
I wouldn't mind as much if Saurik had taken real steps to improve Cydia's UI and functionality, but there's been little improvements, and their acquisition of Rock, served no purpose but to eliminate competition.

The fact that Cydia still looks like Cydia from my first jailbreak 3-4 years ago despite the fact that they acquired the Rock app/store which was 10x better is inexcusable.

Why roundup between apple store and cydia?One is the official store the other(cydia)is a front end for installing tweaks with posix/unix to override restrictions on the iphone by apple.