Sideloading on iPhone; How to install the application outside the App Store?

Sideload application on iPhone has been recently activated for European users; But installing the app outside of the App Store has many challenges.

While it's been about a month since Apple's submission to the Digital Markets Act (DMA), only one side app store is active in Europe. This store, which is called Mobivention, allows companies to publish their programs internally in this space. There is no doubt that the current situation will not continue in the same way and in the future, competitors of the App Store will present their programs to attract more audiences.

So far, Epic Games and MacPaw have introduced their own app stores for iOS (MacPaw is currently only available for MacBooks), but AltStore is likely to be the first to arrive on European iPhones. This store was launched in 2019 by a developer named Riley Testut with the aim of bypassing the limitations of the App Store without the need to jailbreak the iPhone.

At that time, the primary driver of the alternative store was a Nintendo emulator called Delta, which is now available to applicants in European app markets by Testot and her business partner Shane Gill. Also, the new version of AltStore is going through Apple's approval process and after receiving a positive response from Cupertino residents, it will be ready for release.

The most important challenge for European application stores

One of the most important reasons why many alternative stores for the App Store have not been launched in this period is the issue of taxes that Apple takes from developers. Apple charges developers 50 cents for apps that get over a million installs a year, but third-party store developers have to pay 50 cents for each initial install of their store. In other words, each download of AltStore and Mobiontion costs 50 euro cents for their developers, and paying this fee will be back-breaking. For example, the current version of AltStore has been downloaded over a million times.

There is no official guide or specific business model for managing these costs yet, but Mobiontion transfers this cost to its customers through membership packages. AltStore has not yet announced what it plans to do to cover the initial payments.

Maybe such costs are not financially heavy for users, but they somehow stop curious people from visiting new stores. Especially since users are still not sure what applications they will find in these stores, and naturally, no one likes to pay for services they probably won't use.

The process of installing the application store

Another potential stumbling block is identifying side stores, the complicated steps and how to install them, so that each store installs the accessories and can be installed on multiple screen phones.

More precisely, the user should first click on the download link in her browser. A pop-up window will then inform her that, at this time, it does not allow the installation of the side store. As a result, the user must go back to her device section and enable the permission to install Marketplace. Then by returning to the browser and clicking on the link, she will receive another request asking if she wants to check the application. Finally, the user can open the store and browse the available applications.

The instructions aren't hard to follow, but the multiple steps are annoying compared to the App Store, which opens with just a tap of a finger. Most developers and experts consider this to be a deliberate attempt by Apple to tire and discourage the user from continuing work, which is not an unreasonable claim considering Apple's historical skill in designing user experiences.

Fortunately, installing other "packaged" apps from new stores, including Delta and Clip, is not much different from the App Store; But the use of other developers' software is done with a relatively different approach. For example, AltStore allows software developers to add their sources (Sources) in this space, which are URLs containing JSON files that hold the metadata of the applications. In order to download any application, users must also download the files related to it. As if it is a store within a store.

Obviously, this decentralized approach is very different from the inclusive approach of the App Store and may discourage the general public from continuing the work due to the slight complexity of the steps. Of course, those interested in free software may welcome new methods of distributing applications. The resources will not be available until the app is released; But Testout considers them a "post-launch priority" and promises to soon introduce a list of recommended resource partners for downloading apps.

"Some people consider the complicated process of installing application stores as a result of Apple's deliberate effort"

For now, let's go to the programs that do not need links and resources to install; such as Delta and Clip. The Verge reporter, who managed to review these two applications from AltStore, says that this experience is exciting and the Delta application is amazing.

Are the side apps worth the long installation process?

Delta App is a Nintendo emulator that mainly focuses on NES, SNES, N64 consoles and handheld consoles before Nintendo Switch. Thanks to this program, fans who missed classic games on iPhone can experience the fun of having fun with these free apps again. Especially for people who grew up with these games, returning to them again on the iPhone will feel great.

According to The Verge, Delta is incredibly easy to use and games run well; It is enough to upload the ROM file of the games to the iCloud Drive or the phone's download folder. Of course, the buttons on the touch screen don't feel as good as the physical button, but you can fix this problem by connecting the controller.

Clipboard management app requires a minimum payment of $1 per month to download, but this subscription can be canceled after installation to avoid future updates. The difference between Clip and other applications available in the App Store is that it is constantly active in the background. For example, to paste in iOS clipboard management apps, you need to open the app every time you copy something to the clipboard, but in Clip, as soon as you copy something, you get a notification and you can swipe down to put it in the clipboard. Save yourself. This feature makes the process of sharing and reusing copied content effortless.

"Delta App provides a unique opportunity to experience classic games on the iPhone"

Of course, Apple does not allow clipboard applications to be active in the background due to security concerns, because it opens the way for hackers to spy; However, the developer of Clip says that this application uses the standard security of iOS, i.e. the "sandbox" mode, and all the information is stored in the SQLite database so that other applications cannot access them, unless the iPhone is jailbroken.

Less secure apps in third-party stores

 Despite all the discussion from developers, there are still concerns about the security of apps that are offered on decentralized app stores. Apple previously said that the Digital Markets Act would help the company "detect, prevent and act against malicious iOS apps and protect users who are affected by problems with apps downloaded outside of the App Store."

Apple's claim may be true to some extent, but this issue cannot be seen as completely black and white. Apple still has to verify and ensure that all apps sold outside of the App Store are free of any known malware, viruses or other security threats. Additionally, according to the Digital Markets Act, Apple is allowed to take "necessary and proportionate" measures to protect users and mitigate any security issues.

For example, the developer of Clip had to change its background monitoring features in order to get a license from Apple to release its app. Similarly, other programs have also made adjustments and changes to conform to Apple's security standards. These interactions between developers and Apple show that third-party stores aren't going to be as lawless and malware-ridden as some feared.

Of course, this does not mean that AltStore and other non-exclusive app stores are 100% safe. Although less security doesn't necessarily mean that users' identities or data will be stolen, developers need to educate users about how data is collected, access levels, and privacy.

"All iOS apps outside the App Store must receive approval from Apple before release"

In all likelihood, the biggest obstacle to general user adoption of side stores will be leaving the comforting embrace of the App Store. iPhone users have downloaded their desired apps from the App Store since 2008 and have experienced security, privacy, app updates, fraud protection, and the like under the strong control of the App Store all these years.

What would happen if we leave Europe?

One of the biggest concerns of users about using third-party stores is what happens if they go out of European countries for more than a month and want to update their application or get a refund for an unwanted application or be scammed by an application.

Regarding AltStore and according to the developer herself, all payments and financial disputes are made on the Patreon platform and this platform will take care of the obligations of the parties. However, other app stores will take different approaches.

Will third-party app stores catch up to the App Store's popularity?

AltStore and Mobiontion may not be so well-known as to give users the same confidence and peace of mind as the App Store, but we shouldn't overlook more famous companies. For example, MacPaw's Epic Games Store and Setapp, which are expected to come to iPhone soon to compete with the App Store, have more credibility among users and can ease people's minds in terms of reducing harm and resolving disputes. After Apple enables web distribution for major developers starting this summer, downloading apps outside of the App Store is sure to become more common.

Of course, in order for the general public to get used to alternative stores, stores focused on general consumption apps must first be launched. On the other hand, Apple's approval process is very slow, and the AltStore, which was supposed to be available from March, may be delayed.

"Apple is probably very happy with the current state of the third party app stores"

It seems that in the current situation, the non-exclusive stores of the iOS application in European countries are only attractive to certain groups of users; Professional users, users who are looking to solve very specific problems, or people who could not get the desired program from the App Store. Apple is probably very happy with these conditions.