Popcorn Time Is Opening Up Apple's Walled Garden

The Popcorn Time iOS app is about more than Popcorn Time.

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Apr 10 2015, 9:00am

​Image: ​iosinstaller.com

​The anonymous developers behind the popular Popcorn Time site, which lets users stream pirated movies, announced this week that they've gone to "war" with Apple, and their weapon of choice is a program that lets you download a bootleg Popcorn Time app onto your iPhone.

The program, simply called the iOS Installer, is the result of a partnership between Popcorn Time's developers and another group of anonymous anti-Apple techies. The program, available for free online, allows users to plug an iPhone into a desktop and load the Popcorn Time app onto it from there, despite the fact that the app isn't approved by Apple, nor is it available in the App Store.

From there, you can use the app to stream pirated movies from the BitTorrent network with the same convenience that made the Popcorn Time site so popular on desktops, without jailbreaking your iPhone, like the old Popcorn Time app required.

The app and installer fly in the face of Apple's tightly controlled "walled garden" approach to developing its ecosystem of devices and software. This isn't merely a coincidence of necessity—the Popcorn Time team has a big old bone to pick with the tech giant.

"We don't believe in their 'totalitarian regime' in which they choose for us, the people who purchased their devices and paid top dollar for it, what we can and cannot install on our devices," an anonymous Popcorn Time developer told me in an email.

"So for us it was that we wanted to get Popcorn Time on non-jailbroken iOS devices," they continued, "and for the iOS Installer team, they decided that this is their chance to fight against the closed ecosystem Apple has created."

It's not clear how iOS Installer works—the team has been silent on this point, and the code is not open source—although Wired surmises that it exploits a vulnerability in Apple's iOS Developer Enterprise Program, which lets companies load unapproved apps onto employees' phones with custom cryptographic certificates. If Apple fixes this hole, the iOS Installer team is ready to act.

"They have no doubt that Apple won't take it lightly that the walls of their closed app garden have been broken into, so they're arming up and know that this will be a long, tedious war," the Popcorn Time developer wrote.

The Popcorn Time iOS app is the end of the road for the partnership between the Popcorn Time and iOS Installer development teams, I was told, but that doesn't mean the expected war of attrition between Apple and iOS Installer will end with it.

The anonymous Popcorn Time developer told me that the team plans on letting other bootleg apps use it to get on non-jailbroken iPhones.

"The iOS Installer team is planning to use this loophole which they've found to allow access to other apps on to non-jailbroken devices," the Popcorn Time developer wrote. "On their website you can see a 'coming soon' banner, and during the month of May you'll be able to see their full solution to breaking through into Apple's secret garden."

When I reached out to the iOS Installer team, they were tight-lipped about their plans, although they mentioned that in May, they would be unveiling their "full vision" for iOS Installer, hinting at a confirmation of the Popcorn Time developer's statement.

iOS Installer and the Popcorn Time app represents the culmination of years of work form the Popcorn Time community. What started as an open source BitTorrent client that let you stream the media on the network was split into two development teams working off the same source code: Popcorntime.io and Popcorn-time.se. The original project was shut down in 2014 by its developers amid pressure from regulatory bodies like the Motion Picture Association of America.

While both .io and .se dev teams have mobile apps for Android, the .se crew is the first to take their service to Apple devices. This isn't the end, either. On the near horizon is a Popcorn Time app for Windows phones.

But while the Popcorn Time team is planning on expanding their reach to other operating systems and other companies, the iOS Installer team has their Apple in their sights, and they're not planning on flinching any time soon.