AltStore allows limited sideloading of iPhone apps that Apple doesn’t approve

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While Apple is under pressure to open up the iPhone to third-party App Store providers, one developer has been helping users sideload apps since 2019 — and has issues with excessive legislation requiring users to sideload.

Apple has been consistently consistent and clear in its view that sideloading poses malware risks, and legislative changes will be needed to allow unapproved apps on the iPhone. Still, developer Riley Testut has used one of Apple’s own tools to allow users to install apps from outside the Apple-operated App Store.

According to Fast company, AltStore has been downloaded more than 1.5 million times since its launch in 2019. It reportedly has more than 300,000 active monthly users, and nearly 6,000 of those contribute to Testut’s Patreon, paying more than $14,500 for him to work on the service full-time.

Once installed, AltStore allows users to add apps created by Testut. Users can also add any app they can find anywhere as long as it uses the .ipa format. Versions of social media apps with the ads removed are reportedly popular, as are emulators of classic games.

AltStore takes advantage of the fact that Apple’s Xcode development platform allows users to load apps they are developing directly onto their own iPhones.

“When Apple announced that… [feature in 2015]I thought, ‘Oh, so there’s a way to install apps on iOS with just an Apple ID,'” says Testut. “And from there I expanded that into a full solution.”

The full solution is not easy. It requires a user to install a Mac or PC app called AltServer, after which the AltStore security signs an app so that it appears to be user-created.

Apps can only be installed when iPhone and Mac or PC are on the same Wi-Fi network and using AltServer. Only three such apps can be installed at any one time, and one of them is the obligatory AltStore.

It is possible to exchange apps, but there are also limits to this. Each user can sideload up to 10 apps per week, plus Fast Company says that every installed app needs to be “refreshed” by connecting to AltServer once a week.

AppleInsider contributors have used the AltStore regularly since its release. We can confirm that it works and does what it is advertised to do. However, installing both the AltServer and apps through it can be tricky.

Sideloading is a risk

Testut may not be able to get around these and other Apple restrictions, but he plans to create a security system that ensures sideloaded apps aren’t malicious.

“There are many risks to sideloading,” continues Testut. “Because we’re the tool people use, it’s our responsibility to make sure we’re doing what we can to prevent people from accidentally fooling themselves.”

So perhaps ironically, Testut agrees with Apple about sideloading, or at least does when it’s potentially happening on a large scale. He disagrees with proposed legislation that would allow any consumer to download an app without any protection.

“We don’t really like the bills,” he told Fast company† “We really think they are too broad and have serious implications for consumer privacy.”

However, Testut strongly believes that everyone should have the right to sideload if they want to. And he thinks the app industry needs that freedom.

“Apple approaches the App Store where they only approve what they already imagine,” he says, “so anything that pushes the boundaries of that, Apple will just reject.”

“We need a way for apps that push the boundaries to exist first, and then people will see it and want it in the App Store,” he continues. “There aren’t any cool, fun apps coming out. We want more small, but quirky, fun apps in AltStore.”

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