So I was sent a DM on Twitter asking about joining a signing service and it made me think about these so-called Cydia alternatives (they are usually far from them, typically just being links to AppValley or TuTuApp, and lacking a repo system, for starters). It made me realize something about these services, and how to make them not suck so much.
Most of these services are the same: made in Framework7 (which is fine, if they all didn’t look the same) by a closed team with loads of adverts with the goal of fame and fortune (albeit a small one) using apps not signed by themselves. These similarities are the reasons why I feel these alternate stores (which is what I will call them for now on) are so bland and unoriginal: they lack creativity.
Now what if I said that there could be a way to make a good alternate store? One that is creative, unique, and libre?
Let me first say that some decent stores already exist. AppValley signs all of its stuff and is pretty light on ads. TuTu signs apps, but it sometimes messes with the tweaks to use their apps, and TweakBox also self-signs some apps, but is a bit confusing on which ones are self-signed and which ones aren’t. There’s also dozens of signing services, which each have their own pros and cons. None are perfect (excluding revokes), but if they all funneled their ideas into a single, community-organized application (Web app preferably, but no mobileconfig), then it might just be close to my idea of perfection.
Now enough ranting, what are these hinted-at factors that can make a signing service not suck?
One of my main gripes on signing services is that they all seem to operate in the shadows, with no way to see what’s actually going on (is the backend doing something nefarious?), as well as being closed for contribution (which isn’t helped that younger developers are often pressured by store operators to help for nothing but “exposure”). A possible solution to this is an open-sourced workflow, such as one offered by GitHub.
Open-source also encourages contribution. Does someone want a new feature? They can add it themselves. Want to remove a small bug? Anyone with the prowess can, not just those who have access to a closed-off FTP server.
It’s also more secure than an FTP server, as you don’t have to give random people your credentials, and with GitHub, you and your main team can see and approve all the changes, and if GitHub Pages is used, each change can be applied to production at a click of a button.
Now enough about GitHub and open-sourcing your alternate store. Now what can be done, feature wise?
Do something different with your service to make it stick out. Try not to use F7 (there is Bootcards which could be a good alternative), and get creative with your UI (just don’t make it look like a template). Sign your own apps and don’t steal from others. Maybe also open your catalog up to signing services, or offer a signing service alongside a free offering. Also, lay back on the ads, and don’t encourage clicking them (that’s likely against the ad provider’s ToS), and maybe allow for desktop browsing. The sky’s the limit! If you want, you could even support multiple platforms (Joseph Shenton and my old project AppSauce did this, despite being something more akin to hollr2099.net).
The point is, be competitive. The real world has competition. Embrace that, don’t complain about someone stealing your idea.
Avoid Arbitrary Restrictions
Another major theme among alternate stores is the
.mobileconfig To be honest, they’re pointless, and just a hassle (@1GamerDev even made a site to avoid them). Instead, allow users to decide to add a home screen icon themselves, whether you used a reminder pop-up or not. Also allow viewing of your site on any device (might want to display a compatibility alert though), as this can help contributors improve your service. A big culprit of this is the aforementioned TweakBox, which does both.
If you want to really make an alternate store and not something more creative (this idea led to fontPages), you might as well try to be creative doing it.
I would remember older stores such as OpenAppMKT (a Web App-based store) and what they did to grow. It wasn’t too intrusive, it wasn’t entirely locked down, and was a good idea at the time.
The entire point of this was to encourage someone to make a truly open alternate store. Most nowadays are sub-par, and this causes new arrivals to get lost in a sea of unoriginality. So be libre, be transparent, be creative, and don’t be a thief, Cynostial.