The Reason Why Cydia Doesn’t Have A Popularity Filter

If you want inside scoops on what is going on in the Jailbreaking community or want to get answers from some of the head guys in the Jailbreaking community like Jay Freeman (aka Saurik) then Reddit seems to be the place to go. Recently, we stumbled upon an interesting Reddit thread from a user who asked why Cydia doesn’t implement a sort by popularity filter.

As I am sure you already know, at the moment Cydia only sorts tweaks alphabetically when you go inside a Section view. The App Store on the other hand indeed has a few different filters on how you can view apps inside a category. Having a popularity filter would definitely be great for the user, so why doesn’t Cydia do this?

The Reason Why Cydia Doesn't Have A Popularity Filter

Well, Saurik chimed in multiple times on the Reddit thread to share his thoughts. Starting with this:

In the past, there has been keen interest in this sort of thing; the result, of course, was that that keen interest correlates with “is it mostly packages I host at the top of the charts”. This was a serious problem with AppTapp Installer on iOS 1.x: they didn’t take into account that repositories would attempt to optimize release times against each other, that they would return fake data for things like “last updated”, and in general most of these features were totally worthless and even actively harmful due to the crazy direct competition it caused.

So, why doesn’t Cydia implement a popularity filter? Simply because it is something that is hard to make an accurate algorithm for to avoid fake data and displaying results in an unfair fashion. After reading Saurik’s reply, a developer by the name of @Phoenixdev (behind tweaks like Music Controls Pro) then shared his thoughts on the matter, in which Saurik wrote a very lengthy reply back to.

(I entirely agree with phoenixdev’s comments, btw, with regards to the futility of attempting to compete with the service provided by repositories; my comments address other aspects of the comment.)

A good user experience is key to maximizing revenue

You make the assumption that I have the goal of maximizing revenue; there are many simple things I could be doing right now that would make me a ton of money by tomorrow that almost no one would ever notice that I absolutely refuse to do for ethical reasons.

at least not in nearly the same way that the App Store or Google Play do

I honestly can never understand why people’s minds even go here: first, to be clear, both the App Store and the Android Market are not profitable… the App Store pretty much breaks even, and the Android Market loses money. The reason they are able to exist is because they come in tandem with something that is actually profitable, either hardware or licensing. They are side projects of profitable companies, and are heavily subsidized in ways that normal companies could never be to achieve perfection.

In the case of the App Store, it is a great example: people seriously seem to believe that Cydia–or any alternative to Cydia–can somehow replicate the experience of the App Store with regards to things like customer support, payment processing support, scalability and integration. That is a fairy tale: people should be comparing Cydia to other homebrew setups, not the side-projects of multi-billion dollar companies.

In actuality, the App Store is something that is tacked on to a massively profitable hardware business: the reason that you can get great support for the App Store for your occasional $1 purchase of a product that Apple makes at best $0.10 on while providing download support for a much larger catalog of free products (the downloads of which you can also get support on from Apple) is because it is thrown in for free with the ~$200 margin on your piece of hardware, the one that you are likely to buy another one of in just a couple years.

Yet, even with this massive disadvantage, Cydia honestly does quite well: users overall don’t actually hate it; online forums tend to concentrate the people who complain, but the total volume of complaints is actually quite manageably small, even for a couple people. Large businesses take us seriously enough to talk to us (but sometimes are afraid of Apple: that’s the real problem). Mainstream consumers actually understand that jailbreaking is interesting, and we have an insanely large number of non-technical users.

Meanwhile, have you ever attempted to do a direct feature-by-feature comparison to the App Store? Cydia’s main weaknesses are 1) its refresh time (as it is, by its nature, a locally-indexed distributed system that relies on slow third-parties), but if you stick with default repositories it isn’t that bad except 2) when there is a rush due to a jailbreak that just got released (which is getting better every time), and 3) that we don’t have the ability to build an automated top-20 (although honestly, users spend more time in the curated App Store featured lists than the top-20).

Otherwise, they are actually quite comparable: Cydia is slightly faster than the App Store with respect to most operations (even ones that require viewing web pages), and with some of the new edge caching I have finally gotten around to better configuring for most of the first-party content, can even “run rings around” the App Store for some features (such as the various featured package lists).

The search feature is honestly quite comparable (although the App Store definitely wins); the App Store really doesn’t do anything terribly fancy: it can take advantage of popularity (which I can’t: that’s an advantage for them), but for the most part it is doing a titles-and-keywords-only search, which is very similar to Cydia. (In particular, it doesn’t use any kind of full-text search based on the descriptions.)

Of course, the App Store kicks Cydia’s ass at a ton of things: for one, its payment systems are much better, and its account management is much better. In particular, their support is stellar, as you would expect considering if you don’t like it, you will probably jump ship entirely and start buying hardware (their profit-maker) from others.

However, they have had many years with tons of available experts to work on their fraud control, while I’m one guy attempting to learn what I can, and even attempting to mostly rely on third-party payment processors am occasionally having my ass handed to me by some Chinese payment scams. This makes it really hard to get good payment processing.

Here’s a simple example, though: all of your App Store downloads go through Akamai, with global edge distribution all over the world (with penetration into every small country everywhere). As it stands, to get something even comparable with that, I’m paying $0.065c/GB. Now, think about what this means for the large number of free themes in Cydia (where, unlike the App Store, the vast vast majority of packages are free: in the App Store, it is closer to 50/50, with reports ranging from 45% to 65% depending on how you count).

Therefore, I have gone back/forth tons of times with the large repositories about getting better bandwidth, but it is simply not cost effective, especially given just how insanely spiky the traffic pattern is… for the last half a year, Cydia has been a ghost town, and now suddenly three weeks ago there was a >10x spike followed by a usage pattern that is going to last at most another couple weeks after Apple releases 6.1.3, and which will then die down to almost nothing as 7.0 is released (just like last year with 6.0).

(That, btw, in and of itself is something people seem to forget about: they seem to believe that Cydia, which is pretty much the metaphorical equivalent of the neighborhood Halloween costume shop–you know, the one that seems to exist in a random location every year and that does its best to sell out its inventory as it is going to just disappear into storage until the next year–is somehow going to provide the same kind of consistent and organized experience as Walmart, despite not even being able to rent the same location year round… :(.)

there can finally be progress made on the front of improving the user experience

You then are basing a ton of arguments on the assumption that centralizing Cydia, even just centralizing the “majority of packages”, is a harmless tradeoff for these other features. I really mean it when I say this: the reason Cydia is interesting and the reason jailbreaking has been successful is specifically because we decentralize so much of it. I have been very adamant since the beginning that I didn’t want to see myself become an arbiter of content, and I actually do sometimes intervene to “maintain the balance of power” between repositories in the hope of guaranteeing a good mix.

Surprisingly (at least to the people who like to complain about this): most users don’t actually need the things you list as critical; however, what they actually came here for is a community atmosphere with a bunch of players all kind of hacking on each other’s stuff… its fun, its a little chaotic, and it is so incredibly not-at-all-Apple (after all, if you really like Apple, then you probably are happy with their curation). In practice, the anarchy actually allows these features to exist from numerous players: partly due to this necessity, I believe, the Cydia community is actually much more vibrant than the official App Store one.

Cydia

If you don’t have time to read the large entry from Saurik shown above, essentially he is stating that Cydia isn’t meant to be an App Store competitor (it was created to be a community app installer where one person doesn’t have all the power) and it can’t be an App Store competitor because it is not ran by a multi-billion dollar company. He also points to the fact that Cydia is not a profitable business, which allows Saurik to live the life of a millionaire. Having customer support like the App Store and implementing some of the App Store’s advanced features is just not feasible for him and his small team.

Saurik continues to go into detail on the reality of Cydia and if you have some spare time you can check out the full thread here. It has some very good insight from other members of the Jailbreaking community and is worth the read through. Although Cydia will likely not get a popularity filter anytime soon you can check out its underrated Featured section if you are looking for popular tweaks to install, or of course our top Cydia tweaks list.

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  • FlowJBx

    WOW very good talk from Jay Freeman (Saurik). Very smart. My Respect.