In the great showdown between the iPhone and Android smartphone devices, each
side brings to the table its strengths – and weaknesses.
In the case of
Android devices, though, the platform’s greatest strength – the freedom
programmers and users have in getting the phone to do whatever it is capable of,
without having to follow arcane rules on programming or usage imposed by Apple –
leaves Android programmers at great risk of having their apps, or even their
intellectual property, stolen.
When the “garden is walled” and there are
lots of rules to follow, like in the iTunes store, it’s much more difficult to
steal and install software you didn’t pay for. But when you have an open system
like Android that anyone can program – and hack – the chances are high that
users will be able to find, download, and install “free” (i.e. stolen), hacked
copies of your app for their devices.
How high? “About 75%,” says Noam
Pa’il, CEO of Israeli startup Rascal Software
“According to numerous studies, three out of four
Android users do not pay for apps that they are supposed to pay for. Programmers
have to eat, but many are realizing that, at least under current conditions,
they have no chance of earning a living writing Android apps.”
result, Pa’il says, Android users are already losing out on the best apps.
“Usually an app maker will write their program for iPhones and port them over to
Android, but we are seeing more resistance to that now.” App makers know they
are likely to get paid for the programs that are downloaded from the iTunes
Store – after all, Apple puts a lot of roadblocks in the way of users who want
to ‘jailbreak’ their devices, and most don’t – but they are much more doubtful
about getting paid for their Android apps. “As a result, programmers are
increasingly releasing watered-down version of their apps for Android devices,
because they don’t want to give their work away for free,” says Pa’il.
large part of the problem, says Pa’il, stems from the “free” philosophy of
Google, makers of the Android platform.
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“Google is a big advocate of
open-source applications and platforms, and Android matches that philosophy
perfectly,” he says.
“But when anyone can write or hack anything they
want, it’s very difficult to put in restrictions.”
Besides its belief in
open-source, Google designed Android as an open platform to bring in the largest
number of users in the shortest time possible, encouraging manufacturers to
adopt it as an operating system for their devices, and encouraging users to seek
out Android phones as a liberating alternative to the strictures of the iPhone,
where app writers must follow strict programming rules.
working,” says Pa’il. “Every day 200,000 new Android devices are sold.” If that
sounds like a lot – it is. According to Gartner, worldwide downloads of mobile
application from online stores are expected to surpass $21 billion by 2013, and
app. store revenues from purchases and advertising are projected to top $29
billion by that time. But, as programmers are beginning to realize, what’s good
for Google and Android users isn’t necessarily good for them, if they plan on
earning a profit on their investment of time and talent in writing good
RASCAL IS HERE to help, says Pa’il, with a technology that will
encourage users to pay for apps, while allowing Google to keep things as
open-source as it wants. “Using novel patented algorithms, we remove small bits
of the runtime application code (not the source code, Pa’il stresses) so that
the app just doesn’t work if the user does not have a valid license that was
issued to him or her. Our SPGuard product ensures that only authorized users can
utilize their legitimate application.” A different piece of runtime code is
removed each time, so it would be virtually impossible for hackers to figure out
a system to beat the protection. “They would have to rehack the app each time,”
Pa’il says. “Under such circumstances you might as well pay the dollar or two
that the app costs.”
SPGuard is an excellent solution for programmers,
says Pa’il, because there is nothing new for them to learn. “We supply the
system in the form of a plug-in which operates outside the context of the source
code. All a programmer has to do is insert our plug-in into their app, and
that’s it.” SPGuard does not interfere or interact with the Android system
either, so there’s no “compromising” of the open-source nature of Android – and
no reason for Google to get upset over Pa’il’s efforts to ensure that
programmers don’t give away their work for free.
The system is in
advanced development stage, and is being tested in real-world situations with
partners and app companies (some very large ones who sought him out, says Pa’il,
a veteran of the IT security and communications industry), and will be on the
market within the year. Currently, Rascal operates as a part of the Granot
Pa’il isn’t aware of any other companies that are
working on security systems for Android programmers – which is surprising, given
the depth and extent of the problem. “But this is a brand new industry,” says
Pa’il, so solutions to problems like these will take time.
Google itself has tried to deal with the problem, implementing the Android
Licensing Verification Library (LVL) last year, which was supposed to ensure
that users paid for apps as they were supposed to. But the protection was
relatively simple – and so was the hack that outmoded LVL almost as soon as
Google implemented it. “For whatever reason, Google hasn’t been as aggressive
with hackers as it could have been, but the need hasn’t gone away,” says Pa’il.
“Hopefully our system will convince Android app writers that they can make money
on their favorite platform.”http://www.digitalisrael.net
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