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

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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