Cydia, a platform commonly thought of as the alternative app store for jailbroken iPhones and iPads, has just today arrived on Android of all places, in the form of Cydia Substrate*, a tool for developers to build code modifications to other applications. Though Android is by its nature more open and customizable than Apple's locked-down iOS, it now has a growing collection of apps designed for power users who root their devices – a process that's similar in spirit to the iOS jailbreak.
Jailbreaking an iPhone makes a lot of sense because customizing Apple's software, including its lockscreen and homescreen, is all but impossible. However, on Android, the perception is that many of the quirks and customizations you may desire can be managed through the installation of third-party apps, ranging from Android launchers that can change everything about the device (like Facebook's Home application, for instance) to very specific tweaks that can change the device's default behavior.
That being said, rooting an Android phone gives users even more power to do things outside of the scope of what's possible out of the box. In addition to being able to upgrade to newer versions of Android ahead of “official” releases, various apps for rooted phones and tablets allow users to adjust CPU settings, define custom multitouch gestures, record video of their screens, undelete files, gain access to apps not offered in their country, adjust cache size, change permissions, and a host of other delightfully geeky things.
Cydia could one day become a centralized place to find all those things, but at launch it is merely the framework. The only Cydia-enabled extension available at this time is WinterBoard, the “theme engine” that grew popular on iOS over the years as a way to customize more than just the phone's background. On Android, WinterBoard works with themes provided by other customization platforms, including ADW Launcher, GO Launcher Ex, Launcher Pro, dxTop, and the T-Mobile/CyanogenMod Theme Chooser platform.
According to a lengthy and detailed description on the Cydia Substrate app in Google Play, the software will run on Android versions 2.3 and up, plus “equivalent” versions like CyanogenMod or the Kindle Fire. It will also work on ARM or Intel CPUs and even on Google Glass. (Are people rooting Glass? Do tell.)
The Cydia Substrate has been tested on a number of Android devices, but as with rooting itself, it's not the sort of thing for a layperson to undertake without a backup in place…and a backup plan, too, on the off chance things go awry and you end up bricking your phone.
If, however, you feel comfortable going beyond the bounds of what's officially approved, to get started with Cydia (after first gaining root), you can install the APK from the new Cydia homepage or Google Play, then grant Superuser access to Substrate when prompted.
Videos showing Cydia in action on Android have already started popping up on YouTube if you're more curious than motivated for now:
Cydia Substrate for Android is new, but its iOS counterpart is now being used by tens of millions of users, according to Cydia creator Jay Freeman.
*Updated, 8 PM ET, to clarify that Cydia, the app store itself, has not come to Android, only Cydia Substrate, in case the headline was unclear. The ”Cydia Installer,” an app on iOS, and the “Cydia Store” payment model it uses, are parts of an alternative app store for jailbroken Apple devices, Freeman clarifies via email. “Cydia Substrate” is part of the whole ecosystem, but is not an app store. It is a tool for developers to build code modifications to other applications. Freeman says a Cydia store is not off the table. There is, however, a Cydia Gallery inside of the Substrate settings application, but this links to the Google Play Store.