Wajam Dodges iPhone Restrictions, Adds Social Search, Maps

Aug 29, 2012 (10:08 AM EDT)

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The iPhone 1.0 Anniversary Quiz
The iPhone 1.0 Anniversary Quiz
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The social search utility Wajam has figured out a way to not only inject its service into your iPhone but to wire together apps that don't normally talk to each other.

The desktop version of Wajam's social search works with Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Internet Explorer, enhancing search results on Google, Bing, and a variety of other popular services like Trip Advisor, Yelp, and even product search on the Best Buy and Walmart websites. When you connect your social media accounts to Wajam, it dynamically inserts relevant content from social posts.

To do something similar for iPhone users, Wajam has hooked itself into Safari, as well as the Google Maps app for the iPhone. Even though Apple's iOS mobile operating system doesn't normally allow apps to modify each other's behavior, Wajam has managed to insert a custom Friends tab into Safari. As shown in the video demo below, you can search for New York restaurants and see which ones your friends have recommended. You can also click through to Google Maps and have your Friends data follow you there.

"We're using a different technology, where users don't have to go through the App Store to download this," CEO Martin-Luc Archambault said. This also means the software didn't go through Apple's normal approval process. "We're bypassing the App Store completely," he said.

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Instead of being delivered as an app, the Wajam code is downloaded as a "profile," using technology Apple makes available primarily for the use of carriers and corporate IT management of the devices. Using a profile, Wajam can effectively change the rules for inter-application communication that will be enforced by the phone.

This is sure to raise some eyebrows. blogger Kelly Clay immediately questioned whether having app creators messing around with profiles was safe, and even Wajam's hometown newspaper in Montreal used the phrase "Wajam hacks into iPhone" in its story on the new feature.

Wajam Friends tab added to Google search.

Archambault said he is "not at liberty to say" what kind of reaction he has gotten from Apple but that he is employing a legitimate and legal technique that has also been exploited by one of the most popular utilities on the App Store, the Onavo Extend data compression utility. Onavo needs to use a profile so users can grant it access to compress Internet communications for multiple applications.

This method also means installing the Wajam profile is not as easy as installing a regular app from the App Store (although Archambault said it's not all that hard, either). It does mean users will have to work a little harder. Archambault conceded that it remains to be seen how many will make the effort, but he hopes enough will do so to prove a point.

"My feeling is Apple is controlling things too much and they should open up," Archambault said. "The first thing I want to prove with this is that it does make the experience better."

Meanwhile, Wajam has decided to ask forgiveness rather than permission. Apple's ground rules have been justified partly on the grounds of preventing malware from taking root on iOS devices, since isolated apps have no way of infecting or manipulating each other. However, Apple does a good enough job of auditing app quality that it ought to be able to allow more communication between apps and still maintain a secure environment, Archambault said.

Of course, he is taking a risk, given that Wajam also has a native iOS app in development, for which it will ultimately need Apple's blessing. But if Onavo was able to clear that hurdle and get its app approved, he thinks Wajam should be able to do so, too.

"I think that users should be able to control whatever experience they have on their phone, and I'd like to see results from my friends if I'm searching on Safari. I don't think it's up to Apple or Google or anyone else to decide how users should experience the Internet," Archambault said.

Wajam friend connections displayed on a Google Map

Installing Wajam as an iPhone profile rather than an app

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr. The BrainYard is @thebyard and

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