Apple has always discouraged users from jailbreaking their iPhones, but that doesn’t mean that Apple engineers don’t have jailbroken iPhones for testing purposes. In a new Vice interview, Pandora executives revealed that none other than Scott Forstall suggested that they should use jailbroken iPhones to develop an iOS app before the App Store and an official iPhone SDK.
The report focuses on the history of Pandora, which is considered one of the first subscription-based music streaming services. However, the executives also revealed how they brought the Pandora app to iPhone, and this was only possible at the time thanks to jailbreak.
When Steve Jobs announced the iPhone in 2007, it had no App Store. It’s hard to imagine this now, but Steve Jobs argued at the time that web apps were the best way to access third-party tools on Apple’s smartphone. This is what motivated the existence of jailbreak tools, which let users unlock the device and install apps created by others.
Scott Forstall, Apple’s senior vice president of iOS software at the time, once invited Tim Westergren and Tom Conrad, both Pandora executives, to Cupertino for lunch. Fostall asked them about their experience bringing the Pandora app to flip phones like Motorola’s RAZR, but the conversation ended with an intriguing question from Conrad.
“What, if anything, can we do at Pandora to get ready for the next generation of iPhone that includes an app store and native APIs?” asked Conrad.
Surprisingly, Forstall told them that Pandora’s development team should use jailbroken iPhones to create an iOS app ahead of the App Store launch. Apple had no iOS SDK at the time and there were no formal plans to announce the App Store yet, but it’s curious to think that the company recommended unofficial tools to developers rather than asking them to wait for the release of a new version of Xcode.
“Forstall said, it wouldn’t be a waste of your time to jailbreak some iPhones and use the kind of back door toolkits that were being distributed by other people to build a native Pandora app while we get our act together at Apple on something more formal.”
After that, the Pandora team obtained some jailbroken iPhone models to work on the Pandora app for iOS. When Apple announced the App Store in 2008, Pandora was one of the first third-party apps to be available for iPhone. “Nine months later the Pandora app was installed on 21 percent of iPhones. Five years after that first iPhone app, nearly 80 percent of Pandora’s radio listening was on a mobile device,” the report says.
The full Vice report also has other interesting details about Pandora, more information about royalty disputes and how the company is trying to compete with other services like Apple Music and Spotify.