(Photo credits: Egon Philipp)
Piracy and Android have become synonymous to each other lately. There are just so many amazing games available for iOS which I honestly envy, especially Infinity Blade, whose developers have clearly denied of any plans for bringing them to Android citing piracy concerns.
And this is seriously not a good thing. This current situation of Android reminds me of Symbian, where anyone can go online, download a paid app and enjoy it for free. Not a single penny to developers.
First of all, let’s face it — Piracy can never be curbed completely and pirates will exist forever no matter how hard we try. But it can at-least be slowed down by making it tougher for people to pirate apps.
HOW iOS DEALS WITH PIRACY
Actually, Android is not the only OS plagued with piracy. In fact, piracy exists in even iOS and similar to Android’s case, a quick search on Google will give you access to hundreds of paid iOS apps readily available for free. But still the piracy rate among apps in iOS is significantly lower than their Android counterparts.
The reason behind this huge difference is that iOS makes side-loading of apps harder by locking the option in non-jail-breaked phones. Jail-breaking is a cumbersome task and taking the trouble of going through its tedious process proves too much for people to gain access to paid apps for free. Add the fear of losing warranty and lack of knowledge to the list of reasons as well. This has considerably helped Apple in keeping piracy at watch.
There are no public stats available about the percentage of present jail-broken iPhones, but some websites report it to be around 10% in the last year. I believe the current stats shouldn’t be more than 15-20%, which means that pirated apps are inaccessible for more than 80 percent of iPhones.
On the other side of the fence, the option for enabling side-loading apps (APKs) on Android is available right out of the box in every single phone — no rooting required whatsoever. Considering the fact that rooting an Android device is a tad tougher than jail-breaking and even involves the risk of permanently damaging the device, piracy rates on Android would have easily been at par with iOS, had Google locked the option for side-loading of apps to rooted users only. This, however, is something that I don’t see going into Google’s development pipeline in the future given the open source nature of Android.
DIFFERENCE IN MARKET SEGMENTS
While Apple and Google go neck-to-neck in the mobile industry, they develop their respective operating systems with a completely different mindset and cater to completely different markets. iDevices’ primary target has always been the rich class, but it’s a completely different story in the case of Android, where both high-end and cheap phones co-exist together. While high-end phones have seen a meteoric rise in popularity around the globe, the case is not so sweet in some countries, particularly the developing ones, where the case is completely opposite.
Cheap Android phones dominate the smartphone market in developing nations where high-end phones are still a dream for many. According to StatCounter, Android outplays iOS by at-least 3:1 in several developing nations such as India, China, South Africa and more. And as far as I’ve seen in India, 70% of those Android phones are subpar ones, costing not more than $250. The credit for this goes to Samsung, who is releasing cheap phones like mushrooms with no less than 10 affordable phones every year.
Now, it is obvious that an iPhone owner, who can shell out $700+ for a phone, won’t mind paying a couple of bucks on apps, but it’s hard to expect from someone who can barely afford a decent smartphone to do the same. He will instead find pirating apps from the internet a lighter option on his pocket.
Moreover, for this simple reason, comparing the piracy rates in iOS vs. all the Android devices taken altogether is also not at all a fair comparison in my opinion. How can you even compare an owner of Porsche with an owner of a Toyota? iPhones should instead be compared with high-end Android phones whose prices are on par with it, such as the Galaxy S lineup, Nexus-es (or Nexii?), HTC One X, etc. Their owners will certainly have the same buying capacity as iPhone/iPad owners and piracy rates will certainly be relatively very low in their case.
TheNextWeb notes that a major percentage of Instapaper app’s sales on Android come from high-end phones such as the Galaxy S3 and Galaxy Nexus, which is a good proof of what I’m trying to say.
Jelly Bean — Finally.
With the release of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, Google has FINALLY (can’t make it bold enough) included a new and robust system to combat piracy – App Encryption. Starting from Jelly Bean, paid apps will be encrypted with device specific (or maybe account specific) keys so that they cannot be installed on other devices which are not tied to that same account.
There’s one more thing that Google has changed in Jelly Bean that I rarely see anyone talking about — Transfer of APKs over Bluetooth is no longer possible. Renaming file format from APK to something else doesn’t do any magic too. Although I’m not sure if this is considerably going to stop people from sharing paid apps in a direct way, it’ll surely make their job longer.
Actually, Android already provides a method to verify apps for license since Gingerbread, but it is so lax that it doesn’t take much time for pirates to bypass it. What surprises me more is that it took Google more than five iterations to develop a good anti-piracy system on Android. Were they unaware of of any piracy concerns? I doubt so.
The damage has been done. Still, better late than never.
The Obstacle Ahead
That Google has finally stepped up to clear this piracy mess from Android is admirable, but there’s a big problem that lies ahead. Given that Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich has only reached a mere 16% of Android devices even after a long span of 8 months and Gingerbread still runs on majority of the phones, it’ll take a LOT (can’t make it bold enough too) of time for Jelly Bean to reach a decent percentage of total Android market-share.
In short, we’re still a year (or maybe two) away until we finally see app piracy on Android slowing down — except if Google steps ahead and takes the charge. What
can should it do? My guess wish is to force OEMs to update all of their phones released in 2011-2012 to Jelly Bean within a short deadline.