An Open iPhone App Market That Doesn't Require Jailbreaking… And Which Apple Can't Stop

from the html-it-up dept

In all of the fuss, hype and obsession over the iPhone/iPad app store, people seem to forget that when the iPhone first launched, it had no app store and no ability for third party developers to create native apps. Instead, Steve Jobs suggested the high quality Safari browser on the iPhone meant the end of native apps, as everything could and should just be done in HTML. And yet, a year later, Steve Jobs totally changed his tune, the iPhone app store was launched, and suddenly this obsession with everything “apps” began. Of course, the media industry fell in love, because they thought that they could regain an element of control, thanks in part to Apple’s incredibly arbitrary iron fist over what got into the store.

And yet… in all of that, it seems that many people forgot that original promise of apps all just being created in HTML. Indeed, if you look beneath the surface, you would realize that many iPhone apps really are just made in HTML and then compiled into being native iPhone apps. Using HTML alone, you can access many of the phone’s features and certainly create all sorts of apps. But still, there has been general anger over Apple’s mercurial gatekeeper activities. Back in January, we noted that Google had remembered the ability to create apps via HTML and had simply routed around the App Store. It made us wonder why others weren’t doing it too.

While there have been a few “independent” app stores for the iPhone, they’ve all required jailbreaking the phone. And while that’s now officially legal as per the Library of Congress, it’s still not something your everyday iPhone user wants to do. So I’ve been somewhat fascinated by a new offering that’s launching today called OpenAppMkt, which effectively creates a brand new app market for iPhones all via HTML (both the openappmkt app itself, and all the apps in it are HTML based). The experience is very much like the regular app store, with the small exception of having to tap the “add to home” button:

While many of the initial offerings in the OpenAppMkt are free, it does let developers charge for their apps as well. Effectively, this is an entire “app market” for the iPhone that simply routes around Apple as a gatekeeper, and there’s really not much that Apple can do to stop it. And, of course, since the apps in the OpenAppMkt are just HTML, it likely won’t be difficult for OpenAppMkt to extend this to other platforms as well, such as Android (even though Android’s much more open market means that there’s less of a reason to developers to use OpenAppMkt for Android).

Overall, this fascinates me for two reasons. First, it’s good to get more people realizing that HTML is already pretty damn good at creating app-style experiences, without having to create special compiled code and, second, it’s a really clever way to totally route around Apple as a gatekeeper (without requiring a jailbreak), and is a reminder that even on “closed” systems, openness will often find a way.

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Companies: openappmkt

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Comments on “An Open iPhone App Market That Doesn't Require Jailbreaking… And Which Apple Can't Stop”

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reader says:

Re: RE: app permissions


I’ve been fighting with Slacker (tech support) to obtain a legitimate answer as to why their Blackberry app needs access to my email and address book. 100%/complete, blanket access granted to every single section of my phone.

Which _cannot_ actually be necessary. With the latest BB OS, apps being installed usually now just ask “Trusted Application, Yes or No?” which is still disturbing, because you aren’t told what that Yes will actually allow.

This is becoming a trend, and I eagerly await the backlash. Lighting the first torch now!

Marcel de Jong (profile) says:

That site has one big thorn

It fails to address the possibility you have with the web and HTML, and that’s cross-platform interoperability.

If you go to that website using an Android device (I just tried), you basically get a blank page. Only the header and the sidebar loads, but you can’t actually access any of the apps, as none are showing.

Perhaps that’s just an oversight that’ll be corrected, but somehow I doubt that as the site really is geared towards IOS only.

And to me, that’s a huge failure, and a missed opportunity.

Cap'n Jack (profile) says:

Re: That site has one big thorn

You know, it clearly says on their site that they are going to port it to other platforms soon. But even if they don’t, there eventually will be one for Android and other devices. It seems like that’s the way we’re going. Web Apps will have all the functionality of native apps, and you will be able to “install” them on any device with the basic requirements to run them.

I’m in support of that, since we get to choose the hardware we want and not worry too much about what Apps we’re “missing out on”

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Will they work on PC's, too?

Yes, if they’re programmed with such a goal in mind. It’s very easy, however, to produce apps that will only run on a single platform. Also, the iPhone has some hardware capabilities that are lacking on other platforms. It is hard (as in more expensive) to include adequate emulation of these things on other platforms, and developers may decide not to do so. (Here’s an obvious opportunity for a small software shop to produce libraries to let developers cheaply include this stuff).

Also, the HTML 5 stuff isn’t finalized yet, and I think you’re going to see a general reluctance to develop to a moving target.

HTML 5 is also not a panacea, and cannot replace native apps for many types of programs. However, it theoretically can cover the vast majority.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Will they work on PC's, too?

“Why don’t they do that on their website, as well?”

Often because they cannot charge for apps or content on their website, in any practical sense.

Not only are people trained NOT to expect to pay for most things on the web, but even if they wanted to pay, almost no one would give an unknown developer their credit card number to buy a 99cent PC app, but they WILL give their CC to Apple, and Apple can bill on behalf of the developers.

harknell (profile) says:

The web is the web

Honestly, this is kind of silly. The web is the web. Since this is really simply a site you can visit you don’t even need a “market place” at all. The only function this market place is doing is providing a centralized location for you to find these “apps”…and uh, there’s this thing called “google” that can do that function already.

Why not have a “market place” that points out you can read different websites on your iPhone…like Techdirt. Now that would be just as useful.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: The web is the web

Because convenience trumps nearly everything else. You are correct, of course, except for the convenience factor.

There is value in having an easy, single place to find all your apps, web-based or not. Yes, you can Google and find them, but it’s much more convenient to call up a catalog and “install” with one tap.

Even in the desktop world, this is true. On my machine (I run Linux), I can Google for the apps I want and install them from the websites of the app creator, but I almost never do this. I use the package manager to call up a list of available programs and install from there. If someone’s program isn’t in the list, I won’t see it. It’s so much more convenient for me that it’s a worthwhile trade-off, even if it does restrict my view a bit.


Re: Re: The web is the web

Getting an app from Skype directly is no less convenient than getting it from an “App Store” or “repository” so long as the underlying mechanics are taken care of. The complex dependencies of modern desktop software is the only thing that makes this even remotely relevant.

A device as simple as a phone should not be that complicated really. It should be more like the old school Amiga sort of app then a 90s era Windows program.

Either way, search and selection is going to be much more effectively done on the web since there is much more useful information there and the means to search it. The App Store or Repository is a poor place to go looking for things when you don’t even know what you want yet.

Ironically of course, Apple desktop apps are specifically designed to be just dropped down and used without any system management fussing.

ftravers (profile) says:

Re: Re: The web is the web

Installing on linux and surfing to a web page in a browser are NOT the same thing by any stretch of the imagination, it’s a terrible misleading analogy. There are no dependency checks, etc… to view a web page. You either can view or if not, upgrade your browser and get on with it.

People should drive as hard as they can to get the web to BE the platform and write HTML apps vs iPhone apps or Android apps whenever they can.

Smart developers will do this as their app will have the widest penetration.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: The web is the web

Also there’s nothing wrong with trying to tap into people’s love of apps. Apple has demonstrated that the App Store is really appealing: people actually have fun browsing through the categories, checking out recommendations, reading reviews, and downloading apps. I see no reason to resist bringing that same experience to other platforms.

Ryan Angilly (user link) says:

Re: The web is the web

Eeehhh that’s a pretty narrow view of things bud. There is this thing called Google, but people aren’t sitting around thinking “Man I’m gonna go see if there are more iPhone apps out there… I’m gonna go to Google!!!” They go to the AppStore. They go to iTunes. They don’t think of Google. And for the very few that do, there’s too much noise.

This is a simple site, but the secret sauce isn’t in the site, it’s the marketing and buzz around the site. It’s the potential for critical-mass a la

I think this is completely freaking brilliant. I’m psyched to jump on this bandwagon.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: The web is the web

“The only function this market place is doing is providing a centralized location for you to find these “apps””

No, it is not. It catalogs the apps, perhaps sorts them based on your device or its OS, rates them, offers user comments, none of which can happen in a Google search. And that’s not the most important part…

A centralized app store offers people ONE PLACE to enter their Credit card (or other payment) information, one place to risk that information. From then on, it is one-click easy to purchase apps from the phone or the PC. This is a tremendous help to app developers, as very few customers want to pull out their credit cards online, let alone for a one-time 99 cent purchase.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: That's just silly

“they need Internet connection to work”

Not necessarily. It’s entirely possible to save and use the app locally. An installer would make this a breeze for the user.

Your second point is correct. The promise is that HTML 5 and new tools will make all of this suck less, but HTML 5 isn’t here yet and will certainly not achieve that goal completely.

AdamJTP says:

Re: Ignorance

They’re targeting the iPhone which has number of options for disconnected scenarios.

Of course there are limitations for web applications, but iPhone’s local storage and databases will be sufficient for most web app’s needs.

twilson (profile) says:

Re: Ignorance

“Information lookups from a centralized server are fine for web aps. Anything that requires any persistent local storage is not.”

I guess you’ve never heard that HTML5 and particularly Safari/Mobile Safari/Chrome/Firefox support offline SQLite databases for storage.

They work wonderfully, and as other browsers (Ibasically IE) pick this up it’ll be great.

Steven says:

Re: Ignorance

I have to chime in as well on your own ignorance. HTML5 offers local database storage and offline apps. This stuff has been around for a while now.

Once you install an “app”, you never need to have an internet connection again. Offline word processor, offline address book, offline wiki – all possible with web apps. I have an offline todo list on my phone right now.

Hamranhansenhansen says:

You're not putting something over on Apple

Creating HTML5 Web apps for iPhone is not putting something over on Apple or routing around anything. iOS quite simply has 2 developer API’s: HTML5 and CocoaTouch. HTML5 is open and sandboxed and cross-platform and generally noncommercial; CocoaTouch is curated and native and single-platform (although it’s C which is cross-platform) and generally commercial. They’re like a yin yang, between the 2 you cover every contingency.

Apple and their users win no matter which API a developer uses. Developers win no matter which API they use.

> It fails to address the possibility you have
> with the web and HTML, and that’s cross-platform
> interoperability.

HTML5 can be cross-platform, but is not inherently so. It’s up to the platform vendor to make an environment that is practical for developers to target. If a particular platform has a very poor implementation and few users, it’s not practical for developers to spend half or more of their time to work around that poor implementation and support those few users.

> If you go to that website using an Android
> device (I just tried), you basically get a
> blank page.

It’s hard to support Android right now because it’s split up fairly equally between 4 different versions, none of which is the latest version, which has no shipping devices and almost no installed base. It’s also split up between 60 different devices. Every OS version and device has its own issues. HTML5 is not a magic bullet for that.

> but doesn’t that mean they would run on any
> browser, such as on my laptop or home PC?

Macs are the only PC’s that ship with an HTML5 browser. What’s more, Windows PC’s ship with a browser that is inherently hostile to Web development and Web apps in order to provide an anti-competitive advantage to the native Windows app platform.

IE9 promises to change that. Once it is shipping on Windows PC’s, users will see much more sophisticated Web apps targeted at PC users. Right now, you have examples like YouTube where the mobile app is higher technology than the desktop app. The desktop app is being held back by IE6-IE8. In the future, YouTube could merge into one HTML5 app that runs everywhere.

> Honestly, this is kind of silly. The web is the web.

No, it’s not at all that simple. HTML5 is the best attempt at making it that simple we have yet seen, but even if you write an HTML5 app exactly to spec, it won’t run everywhere. You have to work around what’s missing on platform A, what’s broken on platform B, and so on. It is fairly easy to target Apple devices because they present a unified developer environment: similar devices, almost all the same operating system version, and almost all the same browser core version. But it’s exponentially more work to support Android devices, it’s exponentially more work than that to support Windows PC’s.

Going forward, this hopefully gets easier and easier as various HTML5 implementations mature, but notice that Google’s Chrome App Store only runs in Chrome, even though Chrome is based on Apple’s browser engine.

> Those “apps” suffer
> – they need Internet connection to work

No, they don’t. They are not “apps” they are apps. In HTML4, the app runs on a server, and the browser view is sort of a printout of the app’s state that you keep refreshing. In HTML5, the app runs on the client, and it uses the server as an optional resource when it’s available.

> what about access to the phone sensors like
> camera, GPS, orientation, phone, address book?
> that’s where the native apps are useful.
> maybe apple will provide JS hooks into the
> local environment? — doubt it.

Well, your cynicism is misplaced. Web apps on iOS can already get location (GPS), orientation, and phone.

The holdup is not Apple, it’s HTML5. If HTML5 doesn’t support the camera, then HTML5 running on iOS will not support the camera. When HTML5 does support the camera, then HTML5 running on iOS will support the camera.

Apple is *not* Microsoft. They do not sabotage their Web app environment to promote their native app environment. Not only that, Apple co-authors HTML5, maintains the WebKit project, and is as responsible as anyone for the progress of HTML5.

> Nothing beats a native app, unfortunately.

That is not true. HTML5 is slower than CocoaTouch because it is made collaboratively, cross-platform, and it is standardized. However, in a few years, HTML5 will support pretty much everything that CocoaTouch supports today, even 3D. By that time, it will be the responsibility of CocoaTouch to have advanced further again, and HTML5 will adopt some of those features, too.

Both HTML5 and CocoaTouch have their relative advantages and disadvantages. Both together give you a complete set of API’s. There is no battle between them. They are not fighting to the death.

> Hey, it’s nice to have web apps but what
> about people who don’t enable 3G network
> to save money ?

That is irrelevant. HTML5 Web apps can install and run locally.

> My 3G iPad doesn’t have a phone number

Yeah, it does. You can find it in Settings, General, About, Cellular Data Number.

> I have added ‘apps’ like this to my home screen
> they are more like bookmarks

Whether or not an HTML5 app acts like an app or a bookmark is solely up to the developer. It is entirely possible for an HTML5 app to install locally and run locally, independent of the Web browser, and even the Web connection. It is also possible for an HTML5 app to simply act as a bookmark that opens a URL in the Web browser. On iOS, it is possible for a developer to use the HTML5 API and create an app that is indistinguishable for the user from a CocoaTouch app.

> However, if you need to completely reset
> the unit you lose these ‘apps’ because they
> are more like bookmarks and are not backed
> up, and therefore are not restorable.

CocoaTouch apps are curated, installed and re-installed by Apple. HTML5 apps are curated, installed and re-installed by the user. In both cases, this is considered a feature.

lfroen (profile) says:

Re: You're not putting something over on Apple

>> On iOS, it is possible for a developer to use the HTML5 API and create an app that is indistinguishable for the user from a CocoaTouch app

This sentence alone is enough to tell that you either have no idea or you’re delusional fanboy.
There’s a _REASON_ why people are developing in C++ while JScript (Perl, Python, etc) are available. That’s because nothing beats correctly written native application. HTML5 you say? An uncompleted standard that everyone implementing differently? Oh, right, _that_ will be cross-platform. How is that nobody thought about it before!

>> In HTML5, the app runs on the client, and it uses the server as an optional resource when it’s available
And that HTML page coming from where exactly? Out of thin air? How do you think browser knows that some random html page is your “HTML5 app”? It does not, until page brought from _server_. And so far – you can’t store html pages in iPhone locally. So, initial page must come from server. In my world, this need internet connection.

Ben (user link) says:

Re: Re: You're not putting something over on Apple

>>> On iOS, it is possible for a developer to use the
>>> HTML5 API and create an app that is indistinguishable
>>> for the user from a CocoaTouch app
>>This sentence alone is enough to tell that you either have >>no idea or you’re delusional fanboy.

I don’t think the GP was attempting to say that all native apps could be simulated in HTML5, but for a wide range of functionality, you do not need the speed and additional features of a native ObjC app.

And when I say “a wide range”, I mean it. Check out this link for video and a description of Google’s Javascript/HTML5 port of Quake II.

>> And that HTML page coming from where exactly?

Well, the web, just like any phone app comes from the Internet. But HTML5 includes local storage, not only for data, but, using the “manifest” feature, for app content as well. It’s possible that *all* resources–images, javascripts, css files, sounds, etc–could be downloaded once and used forever off-line.

Jim H says:

Watch out, Freedom Fighters!

At the beginning of the iPhone, the only kind of app they allowed third parties was “web apps.” Developers howled, and rightfully so. Insufficient, they said. We must jailbreak! Well, then the app store came along, which has now paid $1 billion to developers. Too controlled, they said. But web apps? That was there all the time. Nobody wanted it, they said.

I’ve had Google Voice since Google made it available. I’m not aware of any functionality I’m missing. They updated it to snappier HTML-5-type code, too. And YouTube. Why a central place? Well, because it’s an aggregating force.

What’s the point in all this? Apple has not fought this, in fact, they’ve championed it. HTML 5 and CSS3 is the wave of the future. Not for all apps, of course. I have Motion X GPS, and I wouldn’t want to code that in HTML.

Ben says:

Have you ever noticed that all major mobile os uses webkit?

The open source HTML. Rendering engine by apple?

Yeah. Notice how apple told people to create web apps for the iPhone when it was introduced? (before there wasan talk about an app storre?) yeah everyone said they are freaking insane.

Yeah you are not rebelling aginst the “evil” apple. You are doing exactly what Steve job told you to do.

Anonymous Coward says:

Umm, Apple already has a web app directory on their own web site @

This has been up since the original iPhone appeared over three years ago. True, developers don’t have any way of charging for the apps, except of course through the app themselves, but this article makes it seem like Apple doesn’t really support web apps, when they clearly do. There’s even a section on their developer site for designing and developing apps for Mobile Safari.

Jon B. (profile) says:

ennui strikes again

People will deal with it because 95% of the people will just say “meh, that’s just the way it is”. They’ll jokingly gripe about how Apple’s a little greedy, but won’t bother to seek out alternatives because they assume (a) everyone is like Apple (b) there are no alternatives (c) there might be alternatives but they don’t know how or (d) they just don’t care.

If the grocery store started selling grills that only cooked their brand of meat, people would say “screw that” and go to another store. But for some reason when the same thing happens with technology, the supply/demand/competition curves get skewed in strange ways.

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