Why Installer.app will never die

Installer.app will still be useful in the next device.

When Apple announced the iPhoneapps store several months ago, it appeared to signal the end for the popular homebrew Installer.app by Nullriver. While the application has a few developer creations that cost money to use, most of the library is completely free, letting people load up on useful applications without spending a dime. The application became so popular it started coming with popular unlock and jailbreak utilities, including ZiPhone, which has had more than 3 million downloads of its latest version.

Apple's new system is a different story. It doesn't cost anything, but developers must go through the company's QA for approval and inclusion. Developers can also charge users to use their applications at the point or purchase instead of relying on time or feature restrictions post-download. There's also the SDK, which makes it viable for companies to spin out entirely new development teams to port over versions of their Web apps or software that are specially tuned for the device.

The obvious guess here is that the Installer.app will simply go the way of the dinosaurs because of Apple's own first party creation, but I think the groundbreaking tool has life left in it yet. Nothing besides the apps store says people will no longer want to jailbreak their phones. The new marketplace sure looks nice, but it's not going to have everything people want. There will be all manner of apps that don't make the cut and the developers that built them will want to hawk them somewhere else.

Another thing to take into account is one of the important things not included in Apple's latest software--customization.

One of the early killer apps for the iPhone was Summerboard, a simple tool that would completely re-skin the look and feel of your phone. No such application is likely to make its way to the app store, since no app made through the SDK can have that level of control. The same goes for potential VoIP apps that can be integrated at a very deep level into the device's calling software.

There's still a huge market for these things, whether Apple is willing to allow it or not. I'm not surprised the company has passed on the potential cash cow. Nokia practically built an empire in the 1990s by selling phones with interchangable faceplates, but ultimately the ratio of quality to crap from third-party creators was off the charts. That stigma still exists for some users, which is why it's likely Apple passed on adding a user replaceable battery if only to limit the offshoot of companies that would likely create glitter, and clear plastic replacements.

What it comes down to this time around is readiness. A cheaper price point means more people are likely to want and actually afford the device. The new architecture also means those same hordes of people will be open to having non-Apple applications on their phone. While I have no doubt Apple will easily pull in huge numbers from paid apps in the coming months, Installer.app might have a few surprises up its sleeves.

Update: I incorrectly referred to Nullriver as Nullsoft--makers of WinAmp. That has since been fixed.

 

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